In debate over origin of fairy circles, both sides might be right | Science News

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In debate over origin of fairy circles, both sides might be right

Weirdly regular bald spots in dry grasslands may arise from both plant and termite competitions

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7:00am, January 19, 2017
fairy circles

WHODUNIT  Called fairy circles, the mysterious patches of bare soil in the Namib Desert may form thanks to a mix of fighting termites and competing plants, scientists propose.

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

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