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Sep 06, 2013 04:44 AM EDT

Mystery of the 'Fairy Circles' in The Namib Desert Revealed: Research

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Michael Cramer at the University of Cape Town in South Africa has resolved the mystery behind the formation of millions of strange round patches of barren land called 'fairy circles' that are found across the Namib Desert in southern Africa.

Cramer found that due to scanty rainfall and nutrient deficiencies in the soil, there is an intense competition between the grasses underground. Strong grasses absorb all of the water and nutrients from the soil, leaving nothing for their weaker counterparts. They ultimately die, leaving barren gaps in the landscape, which later forms a reservoir for nutrients and water.

With the help of other resources, larger grass species grow on the border of the gap, forming a steady fairy circle, approximately measuring 2-12m in diameter.

"The consequent barren circle may provide a resource-reservoir essential for the survival of the larger peripheral grasses,' said the researchers.

'It's a really good theory because it accounts for all the characteristics of fairy circles,' Florida State University biologist Walter Tschinkel said. 'No other proposed cause for fairy circles has ever done that.'

Prior to this revelation, several researchers believed that the patches were formed due to ants, termites, grass-killing gas and some of them even claimed that a fire-breathing dragon lived underneath which burnt the plants.

In April, Norbert Jürgens from the University of Hamburg claimed that a species of sand termite was to blame for the bizarre patterns. Jürgens arrived at the conclusion, after studying hundreds of fairy circles across 1,200 miles of the desert and found that the Psammotermes allocerus, or sand termite, was the only species constantly present in the region.

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