Early warning signs for saddle-escape transitions in complex networks

Christian Kuehn, Gerd Zschaler, Thilo Gross

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)
309 Downloads (Pure)


Many real world systems are at risk of undergoing critical transitions, leading to sudden qualitative and sometimes irreversible regime shifts. The development of early warning signals is recognized as a major challenge. Recent progress builds on a mathematical framework in which a real-world system is described by a low-dimensional equation system with a small number of key variables, where the critical transition often corresponds to a bifurcation. Here we show that in high-dimensional systems, containing many variables, we frequently encounter an additional non-bifurcative saddle-type mechanism leading to critical transitions. This generic class of transitions has been missed in the search for early-warnings up to now. In fact, the saddle-type mechanism also applies to low-dimensional systems with saddle-dynamics. Near a saddle a system moves slowly and the state may be perceived as stable over substantial time periods. We develop an early warning sign for the saddle-type transition. We illustrate our results in two network models and epidemiological data. This work thus establishes a connection from critical transitions to networks and an early warning sign for a new type of critical transition. In complex models and big data we anticipate that saddle-transitions will be encountered frequently in the future.
Original languageEnglish
Article number13190
Number of pages9
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 21 Aug 2015


  • Applied mathematics
  • Complex networks
  • Nonlinear phenomena
  • Phase transitions
  • Critical phenomena


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