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Journal Article

How motifs condition critical thresholds for tipping cascades in complex networks: Linking micro- to macro-scales


Wunderling,  Nico
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;


Stumpf,  Benedikt
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;


Krönke,  Jonathan
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;

Staal,  A.
External Organizations;

Tuinenburg,  O. A.
External Organizations;


Winkelmann,  Ricarda
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;


Donges,  Jonathan Friedemann
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;

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Wunderling, N., Stumpf, B., Krönke, J., Staal, A., Tuinenburg, O. A., Winkelmann, R., Donges, J. F. (2020): How motifs condition critical thresholds for tipping cascades in complex networks: Linking micro- to macro-scales. - Chaos, 30, 4, 043129.

Cite as: https://publications.pik-potsdam.de/pubman/item/item_23973
In this study, we investigate how specific micro-interaction structures (motifs) affect the occurrence of tipping cascades on networks of stylized tipping elements. We compare the properties of cascades in Erdős–Rényi networks and an exemplary moisture recycling network of the Amazon rainforest. Within these networks, decisive small-scale motifs are the feed forward loop, the secondary feed forward loop, the zero loop, and the neighboring loop. Of all motifs, the feed forward loop motif stands out in tipping cascades since it decreases the critical coupling strength necessary to initiate a cascade more than the other motifs. We find that for this motif, the reduction of critical coupling strength is 11% less than the critical coupling of a pair of tipping elements. For highly connected networks, our analysis reveals that coupled feed forward loops coincide with a strong 90% decrease in the critical coupling strength. For the highly clustered moisture recycling network in the Amazon, we observe regions of a very high motif occurrence for each of the four investigated motifs, suggesting that these regions are more vulnerable. The occurrence of motifs is found to be one order of magnitude higher than in a random Erdős–Rényi network. This emphasizes the importance of local interaction structures for the emergence of global cascades and the stability of the network as a whole. Tipping elements are nonlinear systems, where a small perturbation can be sufficient to induce a qualitative change in the whole system as soon as a critical threshold (tipping point) is crossed. Coupled tipping elements exist, for instance, in connected lake systems, in the Earth’s climate system, or in social systems. Here, we investigate networks of interacting tipping elements, where each node consists of a stylized tipping element and explore important interaction structures on the microscale of the network, the so-called motifs. Such motifs in complex networks have been found in multiple systems such as cell metabolism, food webs, or neural networks and are known to be significantly overexpressed in real-world compared to random networks. However, motifs have not yet been studied extensively in complex networks, where nodes have their own dynamics. In our study, we find that tipping cascades occur more often at locations with a high motif frequency revealing locations (nodes) of decreased robustness.