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Scientists finally know what causes the bizarre 'fairy circles' solving one of nature's greatest mysteries

Scientists finally know what causes the bizarre 'fairy circles' solving one of nature's greatest mysteries

A new study published by a university ecologist has solved a question on fairy circles many have had for years.

In what was one of nature's greatest mysteries, scientists have finally discovered what causes the bizarre 'fairy circles' in the desert.

For a staggering 50 years, ecologists have looked into the mystery of the Namib Desert’s fairy circles - essentially, circular patches and the most barren grasses that spread across the 1,100 miles in Southern Africa.

Despite its name, the term 'fairy circles' does not mean that any fairies are seen in the Namib Desert, but many theories as to what caused it have been suggested.

One theory that scientists believed to have had good merit is to blame termites for these unusual looking dry patches.

A second theory considered the grasses' evolution in the desert as the reason for the circular patterns of grass.

For many years, scientists have tossed around these theories, but no clear evidence on what caused the barren land were provided... until now.

A new study led by Stephan Getzin, an ecologist at the University of Göttingen in Germany, has provided the answer scientists questions.

Getzin's research on fairy circles stems back to 2000, with him releasing papers on his findings in the years since.

Incidentally, the ecologist has published more papers on the circles than any other expert looking into them.

Fairy circles have been studied in the desert for 50 years.
imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo

While fairy circles may have large barren spells between them, scientists note that the grasses around them and how they survive is actually just as important to their research.

In his earlier research, Getzin hypothesised that the plants in the circles' outer rings had maximised their limited water in the barren desert due to evolving.

The team wanted to test this theory, so for the last three years they spent time in the Namib Desert.

During the most notably 2020 drought, Getzin and his team placed sensors in the ground that would record the moisture of the soil.

Analysing data from the rainfall season too, the team found water from within the circles were depleting fast, despite not having any grass to use it.

However, the grass on the outside of the circles were as robust as ever in a surprising development.

Getzin concluded that under the strong heat the grasses had become a vacuum system around their roots that drew up any water towards them - but the grasses from within the circle were unable to receive enough water to survive.

Getzin's study has finally provided the answer.
imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo

Speaking on the study, Getzin said: "A circle is the most logical geometric formation which you would create as a plant suffering from lack of water.

"If these circles were squares, or low, complex structures, then you would have a lot more individual grasses along the circumference, the proportional area is smaller than if you grow in a circle.

"These grasses end up in a circle because that’s the most logical structure to maximize the water available to each individual plant."

Featured Image Credit: Chris Wildblood / Nature Picture Library / Alamy Stock Photo

Topics: Science