Birth-death process

Birth-death process

The birth-death process is a special case of Continuous-time Markov process where the states represent the current size of a population and where the transitions are limited to births and deaths. Birth-death processes have many application in demography, queueing theory, or in biology, for example to study the evolution of bacteria.

When a birth occurs, the process goes from state n to n+1. When a death occurs, the process goes from state n to state n-1. The process is specified by birth rates {lambda_{i}}_{i=0..infty} and death rates {mu_{i}}_{i=1..infty}.

Examples of birth-death processes

A pure birth process is a birth-death process where mu_{i} = 0 for all i ge 0.

A pure death process is a birth-death process where lambda_{i} = 0 for all i ge 0.

A (homogeneous) Poisson process is a pure birth process where lambda_{i} = lambda for all i ge 0

A "M/M/1" queue is a birth-death process used to describe customers in an infinite queue.

Use in queueing theory

In queueing theory the birth-death process is the most fundamental example of a queueing model, the "M/M/C/K/infty/FIF0" (in complete Kendall's notation) queue. This is a queue with Poisson arrivals, drawn from an infinite population, and "C" servers with exponentially distributed service time with "K" places in the queue. Despite the assumption of an infinite population this model is good model for various telecommunciation systems.

The "M/M/1" queue

The "M/M/1" is a single server queue with an infinite buffer size. In a non-random environment the birth-death process in queueing models tend to be long-term averages, so the average rate of arrival is given as lambda and the average mean service time as 1/mu. The birth and death process is a "M/M/1" queue when,

:lambda_{i}=lambda and mu_{i}=mu for all i.

The differential equations for the probability that the system is in state "k" at time "t" are,

:p_0^prime(t)=mu_1 p_1(t)-lambda_0 p_0(t):p_k^prime(t)=lambda_{k-1} p_{k-1}(t)+mu_{k+1} p_{k+1}(t)-(lambda_k +mu_k) p_k(t)

The "M/M/C" queue

The "M/M/C" is multi-server queue with C servers and an infinite buffer. This differs from the "M/M/1" queue only in the service time which now becomes,

:mu_{i}=imu for ileq C and

:mu_{i}=Cmu for igeq C with

:lambda_{i}=lambda for all i.

The differential equations for the probability that the system is in state "k" at time "t" are,

:p_0^prime(t)=mu p_1(t)-lambda p_0(t):p_k^prime(t)=lambda p_{k-1}(t)+(k+1)mu p_{k+1}(t)-(lambda +kmu) p_k(t) for k leq C-1:p_k^prime(t)=lambda p_{k-1}(t)+Cmu p_{k+1}(t)-(lambda +Cmu) p_k(t) for k geq C

The "M/M/1/K" queue

The "M/M/1/K" queue is a single server queue with a buffer of size "K". This queue has applications in telecommunications, as well as in biology when a population has a capacity limit. In telecommunication we again use the parameters from the "M/M/1" queue with,

:lambda_{i}=lambda for 0 leq i < K

:lambda_{i}=0 for igeq K

:mu_{i}=mu for 1 leq i leq K.

In biology, particularly the growth of bacteria, when the population is zero there is no ability to grow so,


Additionally if the capacity represents a limit where the population dies from over population,


The differential equations for the probability that the system is in state "k" at time "t" are,

:p_0^prime(t)=mu_1 p_1(t)-lambda_0 p_0(t):p_k^prime(t)=lambda_{k-1} p_{k-1}(t)+mu_{k+1} p_{k+1}(t)-(lambda_k +mu_k) p_k(t) for k leq K:p_k^prime(t)=0 for k > K


A queue is said to be in equilibrium if the limit lim_{t o infty}p_k(t) exists. For this to be the case, p_k^prime(t) must be zero.

Using the M/M/1 queue as an example, the steady state (equilibrium) equations are,

:lambda_0 p_0(t)=mu_1 p_1(t)

:(lambda_k +mu_k) p_k(t)=lambda_{k-1} p_{k-1}(t)+mu_{k+1} p_{k+1}(t)

If lambda_k=lambda and mu_k=mu for all k (the homogenous case), this can be reduced to

:lambda p_k(t)=mu p_{k+1}(t) for kgeq 0

Limit behaviour

In a small time Delta t, only three types of transitions are possible: one death, or one birth, or no birth nor death. If the rate of occurrences (per unit time) of births is lambda and that for deaths is mu, then the probabilities of the above transitions are lambda Delta t, mu Delta t, and 1 - (lambda + mu) Delta t respectively. For a population process, "birth" is the transition towards increasing the population by 1 while "death" is the transition towards decreasing the population size by 1.

ee also

* Erlang unit
* Queueing theory
* Queueing models
* Quasi-birth-death process


* G. Latouche, V. Ramaswami. Introduction to Matrix Analytic Methods in Stochastic Modelling, 1st edition. Chapter 1: Quasi-Birth-and-Death Processes; ASA SIAM, 1999.
* M. A. Nowak. Evolutionary Dynamics: Exploring the Equations of Life, Harvard University Press, 2006.

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