Researchers get to the bottom of fairy circles

phys.org | 2/22/2019 | Staff
vegdancer18 (Posted by) Level 3
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Fairy circles are round gaps in arid grassland that are distributed very uniformly over the landscape and only occur along the Namib Desert in southern Africa and in parts of Australia. Various theories circulate about the actual cause of these unusual spatial patterns, ranging from poisonous Euphorbia plants or rising gases, to ants, termites or plant competition for sparse water resources. Scientists from the University of Göttingen, Australia and Israel have now got to the bottom of their cause with soil investigations and drones. The results suggest that the fairy circles in Australia were caused by processes such as the weathering of the soil by heavy rainfall, extreme heat and evaporation. The extensive data collected by the researchers argued against a causal relationship to underground termite structures.

So far, fairy circles are only known from southwestern Africa around the Namib Desert and from Western Australia near the miners' town of Newman. While the origin of Namibia's fairy circles has been puzzled over since the early 1970s, the Australian fairy circles were only discovered in 2014. Despite a distance of around 10,000 kilometers, both occurrences have an identical spatial pattern, which makes them direct "relatives."

Research - Foundation - DFG - Scientists - Total

Supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG), the scientists dug a total of 154 holes in 48 fairy circles east of Newman over a length of 12 kilometers in order to assess the possible influence of termites objectively and systematically. With the help of drones, they mapped areas of 500 by 500 meters to compare typical fairy circle gaps with typical vegetation gaps, such as those caused by harvester termites in large parts of Australia. In addition, they investigated the soil conditions in the area of the fairy circles and in adjacent reference areas, where no grass grows over large areas.

"The vegetation gaps caused by harvester termites are...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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