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Topological Early Warning Signals: Quantifying Varying Routes to Extinction in a Spatially Distributed Population Model
Laura S. Storch, Sarah L. Day
Understanding and predicting critical transitions in spatially explicit ecological systems is particularly challenging due to their complex spatial and temporal dynamics and high dimensionality. Here, we explore changes in population distribution patterns during a critical transition (an extinction event) using computational topology. Computational topology allows us to quantify certain features of a population distribution pattern, such as the level of fragmentation. We create population distribution patterns via a simple coupled patch model with Ricker map growth and nearest neighbors dispersal on a two dimensional lattice. We observe two dominant paths to extinction within the explored parameter space that depend critically on the dispersal rate d and the rate of parameter drift, Δϵ. These paths to extinction are easily topologically distinguishable, so categorization can be automated. We use this population model as a theoretical proof-of-concept for the methodology, and argue that computational topology is a powerful tool for analyzing dynamical changes in systems with noisy data that are coarsely resolved in space and/or time. In addition, computational topology can provide early warning signals for chaotic dynamical systems where traditional statistical early warning signals would fail. For these reasons, we envision this work as a helpful addition to the critical transitions prediction toolbox.