A global assessment has revealed that mysterious fairy circles, bare patches of ground in deserts, are more widespread than previously thought, with more than 250 sites identified across three continents and 15 countries. The circles, found in locations such as Namibia, Australia, Sahel, Madagascar, and Middle-West Asia, are circular, barren pavements in low grassy vegetation, and their origins have long puzzled scientists.
The study, led by environmental scientists from the University of Alicante, used high-resolution satellite imagery and machine learning to analyse over 550,000 hectare-sized plots worldwide, expanding the known distribution of fairy circles. The identified sites share standard features, including a dry, arid desert environment, high temperatures, high precipitation seasonality, low-nutrient soil, and high sand content. The research also found that areas with fairy circles exhibit more stable vegetation productivity over time than surrounding areas without them.
The findings contribute to understanding the biogeography of these enigmatic vegetation patterns and may help identify region-specific reasons for their emergence. The study's insights could facilitate future research on the functional implications of fairy circles, potentially aiding ecosystems in avoiding tipping points associated with climate change.