Self Organising Plants

 

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“The enigmatic circles of sand – burnt orange, almost impeccably round and rimmed by a fringe of tall grass – are spaced at surprisingly regular intervals across the otherwise barren landscape. Over the course of decades, they appear, expand and then fade, almost as if they had a life cycle of their own.

“And, viewed from above, they seem so perfect and improbable their existence can only be ascribed to something not of this world. Perhaps they are the footprints of a god, as the Himba bushmen who live in the Namib desert have long believed. Or maybe the bare patches have been poisoned by the breath of a malicious dragon that dwells underground.

“Or else they’re the work of aliens who thought it might be fun to mess with the Earthlings by scratching out some circles in the grass and leaving us to puzzle over them for centuries. Hardly less fanciful- though far more grounded in fact – was this suggestion from a German scientist in 2013: After finding sand termites in every “fairy circle” he sampled, he concluded that the industrious insects might be geoengineering their harsh environment, burrowing out bare spots in ever-broader concentric circles in order to capture some of the desert’s scarce water for themselves.

“Whatever their cause, the fairy circles have brought countless scientists, mystics and conspiracy theorists to remote swath of southern African desert that was long thought to be the only place they could be seen.

“Those people didn’t know about Newman, Australia.

“Unbeknownst to almost anyone outside the small mining town, the same strange phenomenon that so captivated people in the Namib also occurs in Australia’s outback. Not only that, but a comparison of the two types of fairy circles could help solve the centuries-old mystery of what’s creating them.

“It’s not gods, scientists said on Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and it’s not dragons or bugs.

“It’s the plants themselves. They’ve self-organised.”

Text: ‘Fairy Circles Found in Western Australia May Have Solved an Old Mystery’, Sydney Morning Herald. 

Pic: “Self-organizing social behavior in the so-called plant-animal, a ‘solar-powered’ species of marine flat worm that gains all its energy from the algae within its own body, has been demonstrated by researchers from the University of Bristol, UK. Commonly known as the ‘mint-sauce worm’ due to its bright-green color, S. roscoffensis is found in shallow water on sheltered sand beaches at certain sites on the Atlantic Coast.Phys.org

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