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The famous fairy circles in Africa - the end of the mystery?

A group of researchers from Ben-Gurion University provides a new explanation based on a mathematical model that explains the changes in plant patterns

Fairy circles in Namibia. Courtesy of Ben Gurion University
Fairy circles in Namibia. Courtesy of Ben Gurion University

New research explains the dynamics of fairy circles. Circular patches of exposed sand known as fairy circles, which punctuate vegetated areas such as the grass plains of Namibia, represent systems that naturally produce patterns. Previous studies have suggested that the fairy circles are formed as a result of the emission of toxic gases from the ground, the eating habits of ants or termites, or due to competition for water.

Yuval Tselnik, Prof. Ehud Maron, and Dr. Golan Bell from the Department of Environmental Physics at Ben-Gurion University (Sde Boker Campus) combined a mathematical model based on competition for water, rapid water conduction in sandy soil and an increased rate of water uptake by denser vegetation and analysis of satellite images for 10 years to explain the changes in the number of circles and their size and to show that the mathematical model well explains the dynamics seen in the satellite images.

Satellite data analysis

The analysis of the satellite images of the vegetation in Namibia for ten years and the cross-reference with the amount of precipitation showed, for the first time, a causal relationship between the explanatory factor (the accumulated amounts of precipitation) and between the changes in the size of the circles and the birth/death of circles. The research shows that in spatial ecosystems transitions between stable states of the system are not necessarily sharp, occurring throughout the system quickly, but may be a collection of small, gradual and local transitions in certain areas. These findings highlight the need to identify new warning signs for future transitions.

These findings, published these days in the journal of the American Academy of Sciences - PNAS, not only explain the mystery of the fairy circles, but also illustrate that broad environmental changes can occur both abruptly and gradually.

More of the topic in Hayadan:

2 תגובות

  1. In that article everything was in doubt and the researchers there were waiting for this study to verify their theory.

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