In the remote Namibian grasslands, visitors come not to see the grazing zebra and oryxbut instead a longstanding ecological mystery: barren patches of ground known as fairy circles. These formations, 30 to 100 feet in diameter and ringed with grasses, form a striking, repeating pattern across hundreds of miles of the arid landscape. The fairy circles are long-lived, persisting 30 to 60 years. And no one is sure how they got there.
Now, a team at CU Boulder is working to understand this ecological curiosity. Recently, scientists Lauren Shoemaker, Nichole Barger and Holly Barnard returned from a two-week trip to Namibia to follow up on a field study that launched in 2015. Using a combination of experiments and computer modeling, they hope to answerhow the circles are createdas well as how they persist for decades. Their work might not only explain this mystery, but also has many implications for agriculture and ecology across the arid regions of the continent.
Over the years, many ideas have been proposed for how these circles form. The legends of the local Himba people describe them as footprints of the gods. Among scientists, some of the proposed causes include plant competition, termites and underground gases. But experimental evidence is scant, because of the fairy circles remote location in the Namib desert, hours from gas stations and grocery stores and reachable only by driving off road through sandy dunes.
When you get something so striking visually to humans, there's a tendency to try to explain it with other mechanismssomething other than the principles that we're taught, said Barger, a professor in CU Boulders Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. What our group brings is that we're trained as ecologists and environmental scientists, and we just went to the principles of how ecosystems work, and didn't let how cool [fairy circles] were distract us from that.
In 2015, Barger set up an experiment to test whether competition between plants or insect attacks could be creating the fairy circles. Barger and her team watered some circles, fertilized and watered others, and dumped termite-killing insecticide on some circles too. The scientists left some control plots with nothing added as well. They planned to see which treatment killed the circles. For example, if termites created fairy circles, killing the termites with insecticide should lead to grasses filling in the circle.
After setting up the plots, Barger had to wait. Without rainfall, the circles remain static. Finally, in 2017, heavy rains hit the reserve. So Barger came back with Shoemaker, a former graduate student at CU Boulder who specializes in theoretical ecology, and Barnard, an assistant professor in the Department of Geography.
Barger brought Shoemaker because of her expertise in the field of pattern formation, which spans many disciplines including ecology, economics and mathematics. Shoemaker shared the team's trip in her blog because she knew there was a lot of public interest in fairy circles and wanted to engage people in real time. She also wanted to showcase the all-women team to show an example that doesnt necessarily fit preconceived notions of what a scientist looks like.
After visiting the fairy circle experiment, Shoemaker reported that watered plots only changed a little, and that the water and nutrients plots grew in more. Barger sees the latter observation as solid evidence for the competition hypothesis.
What we can say at this point is that our hypothesis about nutrients in particularas important for fairy circlesis confirmed, said Barger.
In the Namib desert, which receives less than 4 inches of rain annually and has sandy, low-nutrient soil, plants fight for scarce resources. When a struggling plant is outcompeted and dies, more water goes to its neighbors, which then grow large and continue to use more water. These bigger plants draw water away from surrounding plants. This repeated cycle then creates a regular pattern across the landscape, the teams findings suggest.
But the most striking result was something the researchers had never considered. Barger and her team fenced in some fairy circles to keep out zebras and oryx, which like to munch on scientific equipment. When they came back, they saw that inside fenced plots, plants popped up in the circles, while the unfenced fairy circles remained barren. The team thinks that grazing animals, while not necessarily creating fairy circles, may play an important role in maintaining them.
Thats a whole interesting part of this that no ones ever really talked about, said Barger. We set that up to protect our equipment and it became probably the most important response.
Walter Tschinkel, an entomologist at Florida State University who helped with set up the experiment, believesthe team is on to some promising results. Termites, he said, are a weak contender now. While the insects have been spotted in many circles, theres no evidence that they are the cause. Instead, they might just be coming in to eat the already-dead grass. Its hard to explain how or why termites would consistently produce such a circular pattern.
The [termite] claim is based entirely on correlation, Tschinkel said.
The team is inching closer to solving the ecological mystery, which has impacts for other environments. Patterns are not unique to fairy circles, Barger said. They are found in trees, leaves and sand dunes.
We see patterns in nature all the time, Barger said. Thinking about these patternshow water moves, how nutrients moveis really important.
The fairy circle research could, for example, reveal how water and nutrients travel in desert soils, which could have implications for growing crops or managing livestock in these areas.
I really like to be at the interface of science and management, said Barger. So, once we get scientific results, thinking about how use them, how do we communicate them . . .not only to the public but to land users so that its not sitting in a journal, dying a boring death.
The team is excited for the future of their experiment. The results so far are promising, says Shoemaker, but still young. Shes interested to see what happens to the fairy circles during a droughtor after a few consecutive rainy years.
Because of the Namib Deserts fickle climate, the team may have to wait years before returning, until after the regions next rainy season. Shoemaker is eager to come back.
We are hoping to go back next April, she said. Hopefullyfingers crossedits going to rain there again.
See the original post:
Solving the ecological mystery of Africa's fairy circles - CU Boulder Today
- Learn the BEST Termite Control Products, Methods ... - April 21st, 2019
- Best Termite Treatment - March 2019: Find Termite Control ... - April 5th, 2019
- When is Termite Treatment Necessary in the North & East Bay? - April 5th, 2019
- Termite Treatment & Control Phoenix, Mesa Arizona | Free ... - April 1st, 2019
- Get Rid of Rodents With Pest Control Kennesaw - March 17th, 2019
- Termite Treatments California | 2 Year Warranty - March 16th, 2019
- Termites: Types, Facts & How to Identify Them - 15% Off ... - February 25th, 2019
- Types of Subterranean, Drywood Termite Treatments - February 24th, 2019
- Termite Treatment - North Jersey Termite - January 31st, 2019
- Effective Termite Treatment | EarthRite Findlay, OH - January 31st, 2019
- Types of Termite Treatment | Massey Services, Inc. - January 31st, 2019
- No-Tent Termite Treatments in Tampa, Clearwater, St. Pete ... - January 31st, 2019
- Termite Treatment - Phoenix, AZ | Blue Sky Pest Control - January 31st, 2019
- Termite Treatment Services in San Jose and Bay Area by Planet ... - January 31st, 2019
- Termite Frass - A Sign Of Termites Anyone Can Identify - October 16th, 2018
- Top 6 Best Termite Treatments | Updated for 2018 - September 29th, 2018
- Termite Treatments: Chemical & Baiting | Ehrlich Pest Control - September 25th, 2018
- Termite Treatment DIY Projects Craft Ideas & How Tos for ... - September 25th, 2018
- Termite Treatment Options | Western Exterminator - September 22nd, 2018
- Termite Treatment in Florida | Fahey Pest - August 2nd, 2018
- Termite Elimination - Budget Brothers Termite - July 8th, 2018
- Termite Treatment | Termite Inspection | Dawsons Australia - July 4th, 2018
- Subterranean Termite Treatment Guide - DoMyOwn.com - July 2nd, 2018
- Termite Treatment - Sentricon System | Steve's Pest Control - May 18th, 2018
- Cost of Termite Treatment - Phoenix Az - Bills Pest ... - May 18th, 2018
- 2018 Average Termite Treatment Cost (with Price Factors) - April 22nd, 2018
- DIY Termite Treatment That Is Actually Effective - March 22nd, 2018
- Termite Treatment - Bug House Pest Control - March 12th, 2018
- Termidor Termite Treatment Spray - domyown.com - March 12th, 2018
- Termite Control, Termite Treatment - March 9th, 2018
- Termite Treatment Cost and Inspection Cost Guide - March 7th, 2018
- Types of Termite Treatments - Orkin.com - March 5th, 2018
- Termite Treatment Cost - FightBugs.com - March 4th, 2018
- The Average Cost of Termite Treatment | Action Termite & Pest ... - March 4th, 2018
- How Much Does a Termite Treatment & Inspection Cost? | Do My Own - March 1st, 2018
- No-Tent vs. Tent Termite Treatment | Command Pest Control - February 19th, 2018
- Prevent Termite Damage With Termite Control and Treatment Tips - February 17th, 2018
- Termite Control & Prevention Services | Massey Services, Inc. - January 23rd, 2018
- The Best Termite Companies in Los Angeles, CA (with Free ... - January 22nd, 2018
- The 10 Best Termite Companies in Miami , FL (with ... - Thumbtack - January 22nd, 2018
- Preventive Termite Treatment - Locate Effective Preventive ... - January 13th, 2018
- Termites in Nebraska - Omaha, Lincoln, Bellevue NE - January 5th, 2018
- Termidor Termite Treatment Brisbane - Pest Control and ... - January 2nd, 2018
- Termite Treatments Process | Raleigh, Cary, Wake Forest NC - December 15th, 2017
- Top Three Termite Treatment Methods - HomeTeam Pest Defense - December 15th, 2017
- Subterranean Termite Treatment Guide - How to Get Rid of ... - November 27th, 2017
- 2017 Termite Control Service Cost | Termite Treatment Cost - November 27th, 2017
- Termite treatment, exterminator, inspections,control,wdi's - November 21st, 2017
- Learn the Best Termite Control Products, Methods, Companies ... - November 13th, 2017
- 5 Best Termite Control, Inspection Services - Ashburn VA ... - November 12th, 2017
- Termite Treatment Methods - Orange Oil Termite Control - October 1st, 2017
- Bethesda Termite Exterminators - Capitol Pest - October 1st, 2017
- Termite Treatment - Slug-A-Bug Pest Control - September 26th, 2017
- Is tentless termite treatment better or worse then tenting ... - September 26th, 2017
- Termite Byte - The Local Termite Treatment Experts! - September 26th, 2017
- Arizona Pest Control | Tucson Termite Control Experts - September 26th, 2017
- Best 30 Termite in Secaucus, New Jersey with Reviews - YP.com - September 23rd, 2017
- Termite Traps, Bait and Control - Termitrust | Termitrust - September 6th, 2017
- The Average Cost of Termite Treatment | Termite Treatment And ... - September 5th, 2017
- Termite Treatment - The Big Green K - September 5th, 2017
- Letter: New construction - Charleston Post Courier - September 5th, 2017
- From cruise ship brewmaster to hurricane hunter, these are some of our unusual jobs - Miami Herald - September 3rd, 2017
- Face of Pest Control - My New Orleans - September 2nd, 2017
- Rochester NY Exterminator, Pest Control & Termite Inspector - August 31st, 2017
- Council gives $20K to preserve landmarks - Sedona Red Rock News - August 31st, 2017
- Termite Treatments Dallas / Fort Worth - gotbugs.com - August 29th, 2017
- Orange oil termite treatment - Termite Web - August 29th, 2017
- Md. Couple's Termite Warranty Fails After Their Pest Control Company Is Bought Out - NBC4 Washington - August 25th, 2017
- Patrick Miller Prepares for New School Year at Webster - Malibu Times - August 19th, 2017
- Southwest projects continue to progress - Cassville Democrat - August 19th, 2017
- Leaf cutting ants, fig beetles, can be tough to get rid of - Arizona Daily Star - August 6th, 2017
- School board to meet briefly on Thursday - Davis Enterprise - August 1st, 2017
- Blog: The dampwood termite - Delta-Optimist (blog) - July 11th, 2017
- Pest prevention: Keep water away from the house - GoErie.com - July 8th, 2017
- Experience has Produced a Leader In Omaha ... - Digital Journal - Digital Journal (press release) - July 6th, 2017
- Atlanta Home Goes Green - Builder Magazine - July 6th, 2017
- Upgrading, maintenance of schools - The Star Online - July 2nd, 2017
- NEWS IN BRIEF FOR ST. JOHNS COUNTY, ST. AUGUSTINE & SURROUNDING AREAS - St. Augustine Record - July 2nd, 2017
- Man Broke into Termite Tented Homes, St. Pete Police Say - TB Reporter (registration) (blog) - June 29th, 2017
- With 'Signature' project, Westline, MFar set to create history in Mangaluru - Daijiworld.com - June 22nd, 2017