Fan, Huawei; Ling-Wei Kong; Xingang Wang; Alan Hastings and Ying-Cheng Lai

Transients are fundamental to ecological systems with significant implications to management, conservation and biological control. We uncover a type of transient synchronization behavior in spatial ecological networks whose local dynamics are of the chaotic, predator-prey type. In the parameter regime where there is phase synchronization among all the patches, complete synchronization (i.e. synchronization in both phase and amplitude) can arise in certain pairs of patches as determined by the network symmetry-henceforth the phenomenon of 'synchronization within synchronization.' Distinct patterns of complete synchronization coexist but, due to intrinsic instability or noise, each pattern is a transient and there is random, intermittent switching among the patterns in the course of time evolution. The probability distribution of the transient time is found to follow an algebraic scaling law with a divergent average transient lifetime. Based on symmetry considerations, we develop a stability analysis to understand these phenomena. The general principle of symmetry can also be exploited to explain previously discovered, counterintuitive synchronization behaviors in ecological networks.