Coexistence in the Face of Uncertainty

  • Sebastian J. SchreiberEmail author
Part of the Fields Institute Communications book series (FIC, volume 79)


Over the past century, nonlinear difference and differential equations have been used to understand conditions for coexistence of interacting populations. However, these models fail to account for random fluctuations due to demographic and environmental stochasticity which are experienced by all populations. I review some recent mathematical results about persistence and coexistence for models accounting for each of these forms of stochasticity. Demographic stochasticity stems from populations and communities consisting of a finite number of interacting individuals, and often are represented by Markovian models with a countable number of states. For closed populations in a bounded world, extinction occurs in finite time but may be preceded by long-term transients. Quasi-stationary distributions (QSDs) of these Markov models characterize this meta-stable behavior. For sufficiently large “habitat sizes”, QSDs are shown to concentrate on the positive attractors of deterministic models. Moreover, the probability extinction decreases exponentially with habitat size. Alternatively, environmental stochasticity stems from fluctuations in environmental conditions which influence survival, growth, and reproduction. Stochastic difference equations can be used to model the effects of environmental stochasticity on population and community dynamics. For these models, stochastic persistence corresponds to empirical measures placing arbitrarily little weight on arbitrarily low population densities. Sufficient and necessary conditions for stochastic persistence are reviewed. These conditions involve weighted combinations of Lyapunov exponents corresponding to “average” per-capita growth rates of rare species. The results are illustrated with how climatic variability influenced the dynamics of Bay checkerspot butterflies, the persistence of coupled sink populations, coexistence of competitors through the storage effect, and stochastic rock-paper-scissor communities. Open problems and conjectures are presented.


Random difference equations Stochastic population dynamics Coexistence Quasi-stationary distributions Demographic noise Environmental stochasticity Markov chains 



Many thanks to Swati Patel, William Cuello, and two anonymous reviews for providing extensive comments on an earlier version of this manuscript. This work was supported in part by US NSF Grant DMS-1313418 to the author.


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© Springer Science+Business Media LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Evolution and EcologyUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA

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