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Brauns, Fridtjof; Halatek, Jacob; Frey, Erwin (2020): Phase-Space Geometry of Mass-Conserving Reaction-Diffusion Dynamics. In: Physical Review X, Vol. 10, No. 4, 041036
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Experimental studies of protein-pattern formation have stimulated new interest in the dynamics of reaction-diffusion systems. However, a comprehensive theoretical understanding of the dynamics of such highly nonlinear, spatially extended systems is still missing. Here, we show how a description in phase space, which has proven invaluable in shaping our intuition about the dynamics of nonlinear ordinary differential equations, can he generalized to mass-conserving reaction-diffusion (MCRD) systems. We present a comprehensive analysis of two-component MCRD systems, which serve as paradigmatic minimal systems that encapsulate the core principles and concepts of the local equilibria theory introduced in the paper. The key insight underlying this theory is that shifting local (reactive) equilibria-controlled by the local total density-give rise to concentration gradients that drive diffusive redistribution of total density. We show how this dynamic interplay can be embedded in the phase plane of the reaction kinetics in terms of simple geometric objects: the reactive nullcline (line of reactive equilibria) and the diffusive flux-balance subspace. On this phase-space level, physical insight can be gained from geometric criteria and graphical constructions. The effects of nonlinearities on the global dynamics are simply encoded in the curved shape of the reactive nullcline. In particular, we show that the pattern-forming "Turing instability" in MCRD systems is a mass-redistribution instability and that the features and bifurcations of patterns can be characterized based on regional dispersion relations, associated to distinct spatial regions (plateaus and interfaces) of the patterns. In an extensive outlook section, we detail concrete approaches to generalize local equilibria theory in several directions, including systems with more than two components, weakly broken mass conservation, and active matter systems.