Namibia’s ‘fairy circles’ mystery might solved


So far the ‘fairy circles’ phenomenon has occurred only in Namibia , but recently, researchers found large similar circles in Australia and they brought them closer to solving one of nature’s mysteries. 



Image: Stephan Getzin


The grass-rings that pockmark southern Africa’s Namib Desert have baffled scientists for decades. A popular theory was that termites engineered the circles in and around the Namib. But ‘fairy circles’ found in Western Australia’s remote Pilbara region, casts doubt on this explanation. Stephan Getzin from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, said they were “a missing link in the debate about the origin of Namibian fairy circles”. “Because in Australia we find an identical fairy circle pattern, but without any explanatory correlation to termite or ant activity.”

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Image: Stephan Getzin


The termite theory claims that the insects clear patches of ground by eating the roots of short-lived grasses. The bare patches become rain traps, with water held just below the ground’s surface sustaining both the termites and rings of grasses, ensuring their survival in dry conditions.

But Dr Getzin, lead author on a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said the plants were more likely self-organising to compete for scarce water resources, forming the patchy honeycomb shapes to combat “water-stress”.

“More and more, ecologists are actually realising that distinct vegetation patterns are a population-level consequence of competition for scarce water that is not enough to sustain a complete vegetation coverage and thus causes specific pattern morphologies of vegetation and consequently bare soil,” Dr Getzin said.

Ostriches, toxic plants and gases have also been put forward as explanations for the circles, which local Himba bushmen in the Namib desert saw as footprints of the gods.

More recently, internet conspiracy theorists have speculated that UFOs may have produced the distinctive patterns.