Many natural systems can be described as a collection of oscillators coupled to each other via an interaction matrix. Systems of this type describe phenomena as diverse as earthquakes, ecosystems, neurons, cardiac pacemaker cells, or animal and insect behavior. Coupled oscillators may display synchronized behavior, i.e. follow a common dynamical evolution. Famous examples include the synchronization of circadian rhythms and night/day alternation, crickets that chirp in unison, or flashing fireflies. An exhaustive list of examples and a detailed exposition of the synchronization behavior of periodic systems can be found in the book by Blekhman (1988) and the more recent reviews by Pikovsky, Rosenblum and Kurths (2001), and Boccaletti et al. (2002).
Synchronization properties are also dependent on the coupling pattern among the oscillators which is conveniently represented as an interaction network characterizing each system. Networks therefore assume a major role in the study of synchronization phenomena and, in this chapter, we intend to provide an overview of results addressing the effect of their structure and complexity on the behavior of the most widely used classes of models.
The central question in the study of coupled oscillators concerns the emergence of coherent behavior in which the elements of the system follow the same dynamical pattern, i.e. are synchronized. The first studies were concerned with the synchronization of periodic systems such as clocks or flashing fireflies.