Complex networks of interconnected physical systems arise in many areas of mathematics, science and engineering. Many such systems exhibit heteroclinic cycles – dynamical trajectories that show a roughly periodic behaviour, with non-convergent time averages. In these systems, average quantities fluctuate continuously, although the fluctuations slow down as the dynamics repeatedly and systematically approach a set of fixed points. Despite this general understanding, key open questions remain concerning the existence and stability of such cycles in general dynamical networks.

In a new paper, LML Fellow Claire Postlethwaite and Rob Sturman of the University of Leeds investigate a family of coupled map lattices defined on ring networks and establish stability properties of the possible families of heteroclinic cycles. To begin, they first consider a simple system of N coupled systems, each system based on the logistic map, and coupling between systems determined by a parameter γ. If γ = 0, each node independently follows logistic map dynamics, showing stable periodic cycles or chaotic behaviour. The authors design the coupling between systems to have a general inhibitory effect, driving the dynamics toward zero. Intuitively, this should encourage oscillatory behaviour, as nodes can alternately be active (take a non-zero value), and hence inhibit those nodes to which it is connected to, decay, when other nodes in turn inhibit them; and finally grow again to an active state as the nodes inhibiting them decay in turn. In the simple case of N = 3, for example, this dynamics leads to a trajectory which cycles between three fixed points.

The authors then extend earlier work to consider larger networks of coupled systems as described by a directed graph, describing how to find the fixed points and heteroclinic connections for such a system. In general, they show, this procedure results in highly complex and difficult to analyse heteroclinic network. Simplifying to the special case of N-node directed graphs with one-way nearest neighbour coupling, they successfully derive results for the dynamic stability of subcycles within this network, establishing that only one of the subcycles can ever be stable.

Overall, this work demonstrates that heteroclinic networks can typically arise in the phase space dynamics of certain types of symmetric graphs with inhibitory coupling. Moreover, it establishes that at most one of the subcycles can be stable (and hence observable in simulations) for an open set of parameters. Interestingly, Postlethwaite and Sturman find that the dynamics associated with such cycles are not ergodic, so that long-term averages do not converge. In particular, averaged observed quantities such as Lyapunov exponents are ill-defined, and will oscillate at a progressively slower rate.

In addition, the authors also address the more general question of whether or not a stable heteroclinic cycle is likely to be found in the corresponding phase space dynamics of a randomly generated physical network of nodes. In preliminary investigations using randomly generated Erdös-Rényi graphs, they find that the probability of existence of heteroclinic cycles increases both as the number of nodes in the physical network increases, and also as the density of edges in the physical network decreases. However, even in cases where the probability of existence of heteroclinic cycles is high, there is also a high chance of the existence of a stable fixed point in the phase space. From this they conclude that the question of the stability of the heteroclinic cycle is important in determining whether or not the heteroclinic cycle, and associated slowing down of trajectories, will be observed in the phase space associated with a randomly generated graph.

The paper is available as a pre-print at https://arxiv.org/abs/2202.10607

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