Atlas of Mysterious Fairy Circles Reveals They’re More Widespread Than We Thought: ScienceAlert


Mysterious, bare patches of land in the deserts of Namibia and Australia are much more widespread than we know.

They are known as fairy circles, and a new global assessment has counted 263 sites where these bald spots can be found, spanning three continents and 15 countries, including the Sahel, Madagascar and Central- Including West Asia. This new information could help scientists figure out what causes them, a question that is proving surprisingly difficult to answer.

“We conducted a global and systematic assessment of fairy circle-like vegetation patterns and discovered hundreds of [fairy-circle]Similar locations on three continents,” wrote a team led by environmental scientist Emilio Guirado of the University of Alicante in Spain.

“Our study provides insight into the ecology and biogeography of these fascinating vegetation patterns and the first atlas of their global distribution.”

frameborder=”0″ permission=”accelerometer; auto play; Clipboard-Write; encrypted-media; Gyroscope; picture in Picture; web-share” allowscreen>

Fairy circles are a true ecological mystery. They appear in desert areas as circular, barren ‘footpaths’ in the low grassy vegetation that otherwise covers the ground – patches of dry, naked earth, up to about 12 meters (39 ft) in diameter, and are almost always endemic. Are distinct morphologically – not touching or overlapping.

Scientists were only aware of examples from Namibia until 2014, when they were recorded roaming in the Pilbara Desert of Western Australia. But we still don’t know for sure what causes them. The termite explanation has been extensively debated, but recent research – and much, much older knowledge – suggests that tiny insects may play a role.

The idea that circles help plants maximize scarce water resources is gaining ground. But the scenarios in both countries are different, which makes things complicated. The notion that other plant species were leaving behind toxins was considered for some time; Which was rejected in 2021.

fairy circle closeup
The fairy circles are located in the Namib Desert, in the Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia. (Demarzel21/Getty Images Plus)

Part of the problem is that these circles are found in parts of the world that are extremely remote and difficult to get to. A lot of research relies on drones and satellite imagery. But Guirado and his team realized that it was a much more powerful tool than we knew. Because if we can find more landscapes in which these strange structures can be found, we can discover what they have in common instead of just focusing on the differences.

They conducted a systematic survey, using very high resolution satellite imagery, to carefully study 574,799 hectare-sized plots around the world and used machine learning to analyze the results. This painstaking analysis rewarded scientists with a vastly expanded atlas of fairy-tale sites.

“Our analysis revealed 263 locations [fairy-circle]-like vegetation patterns are distributed in arid regions around the world,” they write.

“These include previously identified areas in Namibia and Western Australia, as well as areas never before described, including the Sahel, Western Sahara, the Horn of Africa, Madagascar, south-west Asia or central and south-west Australia. “By doing this, our study provides a global atlas of regions showing FC-like vegetation patterns and extends the known existence of this vegetation type to new countries and continents.”

new fairy circle locations
Map showing the locations of new fairy circle sites (yellow). Already recorded sites are shown in pink. (Guirado et al., PNAS2023)

Researchers say this information will help narrow down their causes. This is because they were able to identify distinctive characteristics common to all sites in which fairy circles can be found. These include extremely dry, arid, desert environments; Season of high temperatures and high rainfall; and soils with very low nutrients and high sand content.

Interestingly, the team also found that areas with fairy rings showed more stable vegetation productivity over time than surrounding areas without fairy rings. Guirado and his colleagues say their findings could help identify region-specific reasons why fairy circles may emerge.

They write, “The global atlas presented here advances our understanding of the biogeography of vegetation patterns such as the fairy circle and facilitates future research into the characteristics and mechanisms underlying these mysterious vegetation patterns in the locations we visit.” which have not yet been studied.”

“Our work also paves the way for further research on the functional effects of these vegetation structures, which make ecosystems more stable and may help them survive fluctuations associated with climate change.”

This research has been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science,


Leave a Comment

“The Untold Story: Yung Miami’s Response to Jimmy Butler’s Advances During an NBA Playoff Game” “Unveiling the Secrets: 15 Astonishing Facts About the PGA Championship”