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Random Spatial Networks: Small Worlds without Clustering, Traveling Waves, and Hop-and-Spread Disease Dynamics

John Lang, Hans De Sterck, Jamieson L. Kaiser, Joel C. Miller

posted on 08 February 2017

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Random network models play a prominent role in modeling, analyzing and understanding complex phenomena on real-life networks. However, a key property of networks is often neglected: many real-world networks exhibit spatial structure, the tendency of a node to select neighbors with a probability depending on physical distance. Here, we introduce a class of random spatial networks (RSNs) which generalizes many existing random network models but adds spatial structure. In these networks, nodes are placed randomly in space and joined in edges with a probability depending on their distance and their individual expected degrees, in a manner that crucially remains analytically tractable. We use this network class to propose a new generalization of small-world networks, where the average shortest path lengths in the graph are small, as in classical Watts-Strogatz small-world networks, but with close spatial proximity of nodes that are neighbors in the network playing the role of large clustering. Small-world effects are demonstrated on these spatial small-world networks without clustering. We are able to derive partial integro-differential equations governing susceptible-infectious-recovered disease spreading through an RSN, and we demonstrate the existence of traveling wave solutions. If the distance kernel governing edge placement decays slower than exponential, the population-scale dynamics are dominated by long-range hops followed by local spread of traveling waves. This provides a theoretical modeling framework for recent observations of how epidemics like Ebola evolve in modern connected societies, with long-range connections seeding new focal points from which the epidemic locally spreads in a wavelike manner.