Barren Desert 'Fairy Circles' Caused By … Rain?

Live Science | 2/26/2019 | Staff
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Unusual bare circles in the grasslands of Australia and the Namib desert called "fairy circles" aren't the work of termites, new research suggests.

Fairy circles are a long-standing mystery. Some scientists have argued that they mark termite nests or are the result of plants competing for scarce resources. Some say that a combination of termite and plant activity resulted in the odd splotches. But now, a new study suggests that the circles aren't the result of anything living. Rather, they're a result of weathering caused by heavy rainfall and evaporation.

Getzin - Colleagues - Fairy - Circles - Desert

Getzin and his colleagues focused on the fairy circles in the Australian desert near the town of Newman. They used drones to visualize the circles from above and excavated samples from 48 separate fairy circles spread over 7.4 miles (12 kilometers). They compared the aerial photos of the fairy circles with birds-eye views of known harvester termite nests.

Researchers excavate inside a fairy circle.

Vegetation - Gaps - Harvester - Termites - Size

"The vegetation gaps caused by harvester termites are only about half the size of the fairy circles and much less ordered," Getzin said.

When the team went digging in the circles, they found just a few "termitaria," or termite colonies. Those they did find were small, not the large, cemented dirt that prevents plants from growing over large areas and might cause the barren circles. What the fairy circles did contain, Getzin said, was a...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Live Science
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