Around the world, but most notably around the Namib Desert, you can find large areas covered in grass, but every so often you can see small circles where no plant grows. Dubbed as fairy circles, the phenomenon has intrigued scientists, but a new study provides a scientific explanation for these patterns.
One look at the multiple fairy circles spreading in several regions around the world like the Namib Desert, and you would think that they may be caused by a sort of supernatural phenomenon. This belief was also founded by the local communities in Namibia known as the Himba people. They believe that the fairy circles are actually the footprints of gods such as Mukuru.
Further supernatural explanations were created by tour guides as a way to attract more people to the areas. They made up stories about dragons and their fiery breath, maybe because a god walking on the ground is not interesting enough anymore.
Although the fairy circles are prevalent in Africa, they were also discovered in other parts of the world like Australia. One of the first explanations of this phenomenon involved termites, because each fairy circle seems to have a nest near their centers. However, correlation does not imply causation, and scientists discovered that termites were not causing the circles and instead were attracted by it.
Another explanation consisted in the fact that the plants naturally form the circles as a result of the competition for nutrients. However, this theory as well did not completely explain all the related characteristic of the fairy circles.
Researchers started to use a complex computer model with data regarding the formation of the fairy circles from the field, as well as the how the termites and vegetation might interact. They discovered that the phenomenon was caused by the combination of both factors. The findings of the research team were published in the journal Nature.
The termites in the desert make the soil more humid and fertile. However, because of the tunnels that they create in a circular pattern, the plants can’t. This results in a circle of what seems barren land surrounded by tall patches of grass because the plants can still make use of the fertile soil and its moisture near its edges, where there are no tunnels.
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