Mean growth rate when rare is not a reliable metric for persistence of species

Jayant Pande, Tak Fung, Ryan Chisholm, Nadav M. Shnerb

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review


The coexistence of many species within ecological communities poses a long-standing theoretical puzzle. Modern coexistence theory (MCT) and related techniques explore this phenomenon by examining the chance of a species population growing from rarity in the presence of all other species. The mean growth rate when rare, (Formula presented.), is used in MCT as a metric that measures persistence properties (like invasibility or time to extinction) of a population. Here we critique this reliance on (Formula presented.) and show that it fails to capture the effect of temporal random abundance variations on persistence properties. The problem becomes particularly severe when an increase in the amplitude of stochastic temporal environmental variations leads to an increase in (Formula presented.), since at the same time it enhances random abundance fluctuations and the two effects are inherently intertwined. In this case, the chance of invasion and the mean extinction time of a population may even go down as (Formula presented.) increases.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)274-282
Number of pages9
JournalEcology Letters
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2020


  • Coexistence
  • environmental stochasticity
  • invasibility
  • lottery model
  • mean growth rate
  • mean time to extinction
  • modern coexistence theory
  • persistence

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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