Many social, biological, and technological networks consist of a small number of highly connected components (hubs) and a very large number of loosely connected components (low-degree nodes). It has been commonly recognized that such heterogeneously connected networks are extremely vulnerable to the failure of hubs in terms of structural robustness of complex networks. However, little is known about dynamical robustness, which refers to the ability of a network to maintain its dynamical activity against local perturbations. Here we demonstrate that, in contrast to the structural fragility, the nonlinear dynamics of heterogeneously connected networks can be highly vulnerable to the failure of low-degree nodes. The crucial role of low-degree nodes results from dynamical processes where normal (active) units compensate for the failure of neighboring (inactive) units at the expense of a reduction in their own activity. Our finding highlights the significant difference between structural and dynamical robustness in complex networks.
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