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Rate-induced tipping in complex high-dimensional ecological networks

Shirin PanahiYounghae DoAlan HastingsYing-Cheng Lai
Nov 2023
In an ecosystem, environmental changes as a result of natural and human processes can cause some key parameters of the system to change with time. Depending on how fast such a parameter changes, a tipping point can occur. Existing works on rate-induced tipping, or R-tipping, offered a theoretical way to study this phenomenon but from a local dynamical point of view, revealing, e.g., the existence of a critical rate for some specific initial condition above which a tipping point will occur. As ecosystems are subject to constant disturbances and can drift away from their equilibrium point, it is necessary to study R-tipping from a global perspective in terms of the initial conditions in the entire relevant phase space region. In particular, we introduce the notion of the probability of R-tipping defined for initial conditions taken from the whole relevant phase space. Using a number of real-world, complex mutualistic networks as a paradigm, we discover a scaling law between this probability and the rate of parameter change and provide a geometric theory to explain the law. The real-world implication is that even a slow parameter change can lead to a system collapse with catastrophic consequences. In fact, to mitigate the environmental changes by merely slowing down the parameter drift may not always be effective: only when the rate of parameter change is reduced to practically zero would the tipping be avoided. Our global dynamics approach offers a more complete and physically meaningful way to understand the important phenomenon of R-tipping.
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