Taming the diffusion approximation through a controlling-factor WKB method

Jayant Pande, Nadav M. Shnerb

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6 Scopus citations


The diffusion approximation (DA) is widely used in the analysis of stochastic population dynamics, from population genetics to ecology and evolution. The DA is an uncontrolled approximation that assumes the smoothness of the calculated quantity over the relevant state space and fails when this property is not satisfied. This failure becomes severe in situations where the direction of selection switches sign. Here we employ the WKB (Wentzel-Kramers-Brillouin) large-deviations method, which requires only the logarithm of a given quantity to be smooth over its state space. Combining the WKB scheme with asymptotic matching techniques, we show how to derive the diffusion approximation in a controlled manner and how to produce better approximations, applicable for much wider regimes of parameters. We also introduce a scalable (independent of population size) WKB-based numerical technique. The method is applied to a central problem in population genetics and evolution, finding the chance of ultimate fixation in a zero-sum, two-Types competition.

Original languageEnglish
Article number062410
JournalPhysical Review E
Issue number6
StatePublished - 9 Dec 2020

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© 2020 American Physical Society.


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