Weirdly regular bald spots in dry grasslands may arise from both plant and termite competitions
Ecologists still don’t believe in fairies. But it may take magic to resolve a long-running debate over what causes the oddly regular spots of bare soil called fairy circles. A new approach now suggests combining the two main hypotheses.
Fairy circles, each among about six close neighbors, sprinkle arid grasslands in southern Africa and Australia “like a polka dot dress,” says ecologist Corina Tarnita of Princeton University. Two persistent ideas fuel debate over what’s making the arrays: stalemate warfare between underground termite colonies (SN Online: 3/28/13) or bigger plants monopolizing water (SN: 4/16/16, p. 8). “What if the reason that this debate is so long-lasting and it’s so hard to