What Made Fairy Circles

What causes fairy circles, those circular barren patches of land found in the grasslands of Southern Africa? German scientist Norbert Juergens found the answer: termites.

These so-called fairy circles have variously been pinned on the presence of other, poisonous plants, on ants, and even toxic gases rising from below.

But Norbert Juergens says the one ever-present factor is sand termites.

The creatures have engineered the rings to maintain a supply of water in their environment, he tells Science magazine. [...] He reports how the invertebrates (Psammotermes allocerus) first clear a patch of ground by eating the roots of short-lived, annual grasses.

This bare, sandy earth then becomes an effective rain trap - with no vegetation, water cannot be lost through transpiration (the evaporation of water from plants).

Instead, it collects, oasis-like, just below the surface where it can sustain the termites and a supply of perennial grasses at the margins of the circles. These are available to eat even in the driest seasons.

Jonathan Amos of the BBC News' Science & Environment has the story: Link

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