Mysterious African Fairies Might Be Termites
by Brandon Keim
For decades, people have been mystified by thousands of bare, circular soil patches that dot arid western African landscapes with inexplicable geometric precision.
They’re known as fairy circles — and the fairies, says ecologist Norbert Juergens of Germany’s University of Hamburg, are termites engaged in an extraordinary, landscape-scale act of ecological engineering that sustains not only themselves but a rich web of grassland life.
Other proposed explanations have involved toxins deposited by poisonous plants, ant species raising colonies of plant-eating insects, and ‘self-organizing’ vegetation dynamics that elsewhere produce mosaic vegetation patterns. Yet while each hypothesis is plausible, convincing evidence hasn’t yet been found…
(read more: Wired Science) (photo: Norbert Juergens)