Proper spatial heterogeneities expand the regime of scale-free behavior in a lattice of excitable elements
Urban Marhl and Marko Gosak
Physical Review E, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevE.100.062203
Signatures of criticality, such as power law scaling of observables, have been empirically found in a plethora of real-life settings, including biological systems. The presence of critical states is believed to have many functional advantages and is associated with optimal operational abilities. Typically, critical dynamics arises in the proximity of phase transition points between absorbing disordered states (subcriticality) and ordered active regimes (supercriticality) and requires a high degree of fine tuning to emerge, which is unlikely to occur in real biological systems. In the present study we propose a rather simple, and biologically relevant mechanism that profoundly expands the critical-like region. In particular, by means of numerical simulation we show that incorporating spatial heterogeneities into the square lattice of map-based excitable oscillators broadens the parameter space in which the distribution of excitation wave sizes follows closely a power law. Most importantly, this behavior is only observed if the spatial profile exhibits intermediate-sized patches with similar excitability levels, whereas for large and small spatial clusters only marginal widening of the critical state is detected. Furthermore, it turned out that the presence of spatial disorder in general amplifies the size of excitation waves, whereby the relatively highest contributions are observed in the proximity of the critical point. We argue that the reported mechanism is of particular importance for excitable systems with local interactions between individual elements.