Synchronization-induced persistence versus selection for habitats in spatially coupled ecosystems

Adam Lampert*, Alan Hastings

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Critical population phase transitions, in which a persistent population becomes extinction-prone owing to environmental changes, are fundamentally important in ecology, and their determination is a key factor in successful ecosystem management. To persist, a species requires a suitable environment in a sufficiently large spatial region. However, even if this condition is met, the species does not necessarily persist, owing to stochastic fluctuations. Here, we develop a model that allows simultaneous investigation of extinction due to either stochastic or deterministic reasons. We find that even classic birth-death processes in spatially extended ecosystems exhibit phase transitions between extinction-prone and persistent populations. Sometimes these are first-order transitions, which means that environmental changes may result in irreversible population collapse. Moreover, we find that higher migration rates not only lead to higher robustness to stochastic fluctuations, but also result in lower sustainability in heterogeneous environments by preventing efficient selection for suitable habitats. This demonstrates that intermediate migration rates are optimal for survival. At low migration rates, the dynamics are reduced to metapopulation dynamics, whereas at high migration rates, the dynamics are reduced to a multi-type branching process.We focus on species persistence, but our results suggest a unique method for finding phase transitions in spatially extended stochastic systems in general.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number20130559
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number87
StatePublished - 6 Oct 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Extinction transition
  • Noise-induced transition
  • Population collapse


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