The previous blog post “Persistence via reachability vs. via Petri nets” mentioned vacuous persistence. This post is devoted to this concept.
limit point (Definition)
Consider a trajectory in a closed subset , i.e. a map . An limit point of is any point in that approaches in discrete time. More precisely, an limit point of is any point such that for some sequence in such that .
Persistent trajectory (Definition)
A trajectory in is persistent if it has no omegalimit points on the boundary .
If is a trajectory in whose components quantify particular entities, to say that is persistent is to say that these entities do not experience recurring, worsetrending episodes of near extinction, and in particular do not approach extinction.
Positive dynamical system (Definition)
A dynamical system , where is a vector field , is a positive dynamical system if the nonnegative orthant is forwardinvariant, i.e. if all solution trajectories originating in range in .
Examples of positive dynamical systems include the dynamical systems that describe the kinetics of massaction reaction networks.
Persistent dynamical system (Definition)
A positive dynamical system in is persistent if all solution trajectories originating in are persistent.
I will state an equivalent formulation of persistence which applies to reaction networks and provides a convenient transition to vacuous persistence. I will use the language of Chemical Reaction Network Theory. For readers unfamiliar with this area, two classic references are the lecture notes of Martin Feinberg at http://www.che.eng.ohiostate.edu/~Feinberg/LecturesOnReactionNetworks/ and the tutorial of Jeremy Gunawardena at http://www.jeremygunawardena.com/papers/crnt.pdf.
If is a (nonnegative) stoichiometric compatibility class of a reaction network, I shall denote and the (relative) interior and the (relative) boundary of respectively. These notations are chosen to highlight the fact that the interior consists of the points of whose components are all positive, and the boundary consists of the points of whose components are not all positive. We have . I shall say that the class is degenerate if , or equivalently if . Also, a set of species is admissible if there exists in a point of which is the support.
Persistence for massaction reaction networks (Reformulated definition)
For every nondegenerate stoichiometric compatibility class , there are no omegalimit points on the boundary for trajectories in originating in the interior .
Vacuous persistence for massaction reaction networks (Definition)
For every nondegenerate stoichiometric compatibility class , there are no omegalimit points on the boundary for trajectories in .
Ordinary persistence allows opportunities for nonpersistence, in the sense that there can be boundary points that are omegalimit points, as long as they are so for trajectories originating on (and confined to) the boundary. The attribute “vacuous” is to indicate that such opportunities for nonpersistence do not exist in vacuous persistence. One can see that vacuous persistence is equivalent to persistence together with the nonexistence of trajectories entirely contained in the boundary of nondegenerate stoichiometric compatibility classes. It has been suggested to me (on 5 January 2010) that vacuous persistence might be equivalent to persistence together with the nonexistence of equilibria on the boundary of nondegenerate stoichiometric compatibility classes. This condition is obviously necessary, but it is not yet fully established that it is sufficient.
Persistence has long been an area of interest in mathematical modeling, in particular in population modeling. To my knowledge, mathematical models of population dynamics assume that all living species (plants, animals, etc) are present at the chosen initial time. This may explain why vacuous persistence has as far as I can tell not been considered before. But vacuous persistence is relevant in chemistry because chemical species can appear after initial time as a result of chemical reactions, e.g. association (i.e. binding), dissociations (i.e. unbinding), isomerization, etc. The box below shows an ifandonlyif condition for the vacuous persistence of massaction networks with bounded trajectories. The result is from my paper Reachability, Persistence, and Constructive Chemical Reaction Networks.
Characterization of vacuous persistence (Theorem) 
Consider a massaction reaction network for which all concentration trajectories are bounded. The following are equivalent:
 The reaction network is vacuously persistent.
 Among the subsets of the set of all species, only the full set is both reachclosed and admissible for every nondegenerate stoichiometric compatibility class .

What it means to be reachclosed is discussed in the paper. I might in the future have a blog post dedicated to reachability. The fact that there is this nice structural (i.e. independent of rate constants) characterization (i.e. necessary and sufficient condition) makes me think that vacuous persistence is a natural concept of nonextinction for massaction networks with bounded trajectories. This is of course a very subjective view, as evidenced by disputable attributes such as “nice” and “natural”.