Abstract Recent studies of spatially explicit metapopulation models have shown the existence of complex transient behaviour (supertransients and mesotransients) characterized by spontaneous changes in the system's dynamics after thousands or hundreds of generations, respectively. Their detection in simple ecological models has been taken as evidence that transient dynamics may be common in nature. In this study, we explore the generality of these phenomena in a simple one-dimensional spatially explicit metapopulation model. We investigate how frequently supertransient behaviour emerges in relation to the shape and type of the dispersal kernel used (normal and Laplace), system size, boundary conditions and how sensitive they are to initial conditions. Our results show that supertransients are rare, are heavily affected by initial conditions and occur for a small set of dispersal parameter values, which vary according to kernel type, system size, and boundary conditions. Similarly, mesotransients emerge over a very narrow range of dispersal parameter values and are rare under all circumstances. Thus, transient dynamics are not likely to be either common or widespread in simple models of ecological systems.