Defining and detecting structural sensitivity in biological models: developing a new framework.

  • M W Adamson, A Y Morozov
  • Published 2014 in Journal of mathematical biology


When we construct mathematical models to represent biological systems, there is always uncertainty with regards to the model specification--whether with respect to the parameters or to the formulation of model functions. Sometimes choosing two different functions with close shapes in a model can result in substantially different model predictions: a phenomenon known in the literature as structural sensitivity, which is a significant obstacle to improving the predictive power of biological models. In this paper, we revisit the general definition of structural sensitivity, compare several more specific definitions and discuss their usefulness for the construction and analysis of biological models. Then we propose a general approach to reveal structural sensitivity with regards to certain system properties, which considers infinite-dimensional neighbourhoods of the model functions: a far more powerful technique than the conventional approach of varying parameters for a fixed functional form. In particular, we suggest a rigorous method to unearth sensitivity with respect to the local stability of systems' equilibrium points. We present a method for specifying the neighbourhood of a general unknown function with [Formula: see text] inflection points in terms of a finite number of local function properties, and provide a rigorous proof of its completeness. Using this powerful result, we implement our method to explore sensitivity in several well-known multicomponent ecological models and demonstrate the existence of structural sensitivity in these models. Finally, we argue that structural sensitivity is an important intrinsic property of biological models, and a direct consequence of the complexity of the underlying real systems.

DOI: 10.1007/s00285-014-0753-3

Cite this paper

@article{Adamson2014DefiningAD, title={Defining and detecting structural sensitivity in biological models: developing a new framework.}, author={M W Adamson and A Y Morozov}, journal={Journal of mathematical biology}, year={2014}, volume={69 6-7}, pages={1815-48} }