Systemic risk and network dynamics

The Evolution and Ecology Program (EEP) is pursuing analyses on the risk of local failures contagiously spreading through an entire system, where systems are interconnected, as in financial markets, food-supply chains, disease dynamics, food webs, energy grids, transportation networks, and information flows, as well as the underlying network dynamics of such systems.

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This effort at understanding systemic risk is carried out in close collaboration with IIASA’s ASA Program and aims at identifying indicators of systemic risk and resilience across different network-structured natural and anthropogenic systems.

Three of EEP’s publications in 2013 shed new light on systemic risk in living systems.

  • Evidence that evolutionary dynamics may lead ecological systems to a stage at which they are vulnerable to systemic risk and can suffer abrupt community transitions accompanied by massive species loss was contributed [1] (Figure 1). 
  • It was determined when the emergence of a new viral strain of influenza is most likely to trigger a widespread epidemic [2]; an investigation took place of how the structures of commuter networks influence the spread of vector-borne diseases and the success of targeted disease intervention [3].
  • In a joint effort with IIASA’s ASA Program, a novel method for predicting the onset of cascading failures in financial systems is being developed in the hope of providing much-needed early-warning signals of impending crises [4].
Figure 1

Figure 1.Two alternative ecological communities emerging from evolutionary processes. Through intrinsic dynamics, the high-trophic-level community eventually becomes critically unstable, followed by an abrupt transition to the low-trophic-level community.


[1] Takahashi D, Brännström Å, Mazzucco R, Yamauchi A & Dieckmann U (2013). Abrupt community transitions and cyclic evolutionary dynamics in complex food webs. Journal of Theoretical Biology 337: 181–189.
[2] Omori R & Sasaki A (2013). Timing of the emergence of new successful viral strains in seasonal influenza. Journal of Theoretical Biology 329: 32–38.
[3] Mpolya MA, Yashima K, Ohtsuki H & Sasaki A (2014). Epidemic dynamics of a vector-borne disease on a village-and-city star network with commuters. Journal of Theoretical Biology, in press. doi: 10.1016/j.jtbi.2013 .11.024.
[4] Puchkova A, Rovenskaya E, Kryazhimskiy A & Dieckmann U. Inclination analysis can yield early-warning signals of economic recessions, in preparation.

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Last edited: 27 May 2014


Ulf Dieckmann

Program Director

Evolution and Ecology


Capacity Building and Academic Training

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