The circular, barren patches of land, forming a highly regular pattern over the dry grassland of Namibia, were thought to be the only ones of their kind anywhere in the world. But a new study shows that they are not. Researchers have now discovered the baffling structures in the uninhabited Australian outback too. Investigations carried out there have also provided new evidence that these fairy circles result from the way plants organize themselves in response to water shortage.
“The interesting thing about fairy circles is that they are spread with great regularity and homogeneity, even over vast areas, but they occur only within a narrow rainfall belt” he explains. He believes that this pattern, which resembles the six-sided structure of honeycombs, most probably results from competition for water. He and his co-authors Hezi Yizhaq and Ehud Meron from Ben-Gurion University of Negev in Israel have also confirmed this appraisal with computer simulations. “For a long time, ecologists weren’t convinced that plants in dry areas could organise themselves because the theoretical principles for these processes lie in physics,” says Stephan Getzin and points to the laborious preparatory work undertaken by his two Israeli colleagues. “But it has since become increasingly clear how important this process is.”