Universal dynamics of pulled fronts
The formation of structure in spatially extended systems is often mediated by an invasion process, in which a pointwise stable state invades a pointwise unstable state. A fundamental goal is then to predict the speed of this invasion. The marginal stability conjecture postulates that, absent a mechanism through which the nonlinearity enhances propagation, the invasion speed is predicted by marginal linear stability of the pointwise unstable background state in a suitable norm. We introduce a set of largely model-independent conceptual assumptions under which we establish nonlinear propagation at the linear spreading speed, thereby resolving the marginal stability conjecture in the general case of stationary invasion. Our assumptions hold for open classes of parabolic equations, including higher order equations without comparison principles, while previous results rely on special structure of the equation and the presence of a comparison principle. Our result also establishes universality of the logarithmic in time delay in the position of the front, compared with propagation strictly at the linear speed, as predicted in generality by Ebert and van Saarloos and first established in the special case of the Fisher-KPP equation by Bramson. Our proof describes the invasion process through the interaction of a Gaussian leading edge with the pulled front in the wake. Technically, we rely on sharp linear decay estimates to control errors from this matching procedure and corrections from the initial data.