Namibia’s fairy circles may finally be explained. New research took two competing theories for the mysterious circles for a new theory that could finally explain the mysterious circles. Published in Nature, the recent theory makes two arguments: the first theory states that the grass forms the rings as a survival mechanism while the second theory says the cause is due to a kind of underground animal gnawing at the desert vegetation roots. Using computer modeling, the research team, headed by Corina Tarina, a Princeton University evolutionary biologist and author of the paper, took elements from both theories and simulated them.
Namibia is located in the southern part of Africa bordered by Zambia and Angola to the north, Botswana to the east and South Africa to the south and east. The Atlantic Ocean makes up the western boundary of the country. The arid lands have a little over two million people and are located between the Namib and the Kalahari deserts, making it one of the least populated countries in the world.
The research team used computer models to “layer both theories together,” according to The Smithsonian. By simulating how sand termites impact the desert grasses, the team’s model showed that “dead areas might crop up where termite colonies eat the roots of desert grass,” forming round boundaries. With added competition for resources, the grass growing in the termite territory would conflict with the termites. Since Namibia is situated between two deserts, water is precious to both the grass and the termites. The computer model showed the results of what happens when grasses and termites compete for the same resource, namely the fairy circle-like patches with grass growing in between them.
Sand termites, according to The Guardian, eat the low-lying vegetation roots leaving moisture for their colony and little water for the above ground grass. The termites forage for food and if they encounter another colony – especially a smaller one – they will kill the smaller colony and “expand their own territory.” The researchers admit that they do not have a solid explanation for how “every fairy circle forms.” But when combing the two competing theories, the results are more similar to the fairy circles in Namibia. Tarina told The Guardian that finding these “amazing regularities” in nature is unexpected. While Namibia has many of these fairy circles, it isn’t the only country to have them. In 2014, some were also found in Western Australia in the Pilbara region.
By Cheryl Werber