GardenDrumNamibia’s mysterious Fairy Circles explained

Fairy circle in Namibia. Photo Thorsten Becker

Namibia’s mysterious ‘Fairy Circles’ where small circular areas are completely devoid of vegetation might finally be explained by new research revealing a symbiotic relationship between termites and plants.

Researchers at the University of Strathclyde and Princeton University have been studying the fairy circles, which appear like complex honeycomb patterns covering the Namib desert. Many theories have been proposed to explain the strange phenomenon, where the surrounding tufted grass refuses to grow within a neat circle several metres in diameter. Some scientists proposed that the termites destroyed the vegetation within the circles and others argued that it was all to do with changes in rainfall.

The new research, published in Nature, shows that a symbiotic relationship between the termites and the grasses increases the survival of both in this harshest of environments.

Termites remove vegetation growing over their mounds as this increases the available moisture and helps the colony survive. In turn, the vegetation takes advantage of the increase in moisture to grow taller around the periphery of the circle. With the two working together, the survival of both is enhanced.

University of Strathclyde. “New theory may explain mystery of Fairy Circles of Namibia.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 January 2017.

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