Similar circles have only previously been found in Namibia, as ABC News reports. With regard to the hexagonal formations, the researchers say: ‘we demonstrate that these patterns emerge by self-organization.’
The chance discovery of ‘fairy-circles‘ in Western Australia’s Pilbara region is providing new insight into one of nature’s enduring puzzles.
The circles, which are regularly spaced patches of bare soil that form in uniform hexagonal patterns throughout arid grasslands, had until recently only been confirmed in Namibia in south-western Africa.
But in 2014, fairy circle expert Dr Stephan Getzin from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research was alerted to the presence of similar rings in vegetation 15 kilometres to the east to south-east of Newman in the Pilbara by Australian environmental scientist and study co-author, Dr Bronwyn Bell.
Many theories have been raised over the years about how the mysterious patterns form in arid areas, but the latest research has indicated plants were organising themselves according to the scarce water availability. Dr Todd Erickson, from the Restoration Seed Bank Initiative at the University of Western Australia, said the strange pattern was very visible when flying into the small mining town. When viewed from above, groups of fairy circles form repeating hexagonal shapes, with six bare patches about four metres in diameter spaced about 10 metres away from each other around a central focal point to form the points of the hexagon.
“You don’t see them from the ground,” said Dr Erickson, another study author who has been working in the Pilbara for the last eight years. “You can be standing inside a fairy circle and not see the next one 10 metres away; to find them, you need to spot them from the air. “People have known about [the circles] for years but no-one with the skills of Stephan have actually gone out there and actually mapped them from the landscape scale.”
Analysis of aerial photographs and spatial patterns of vegetation by the team, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, revealed Australian and African fairy circles are almost identical, despite being more than 10,000 kilometres apart.
The analysis notes: ‘The remarkable match between the patterns of Australian and Namibian fairy circles and model results indicate that both patterns emerge from a non-uniform stationary instability, supporting a central universality principle of pattern-formation theory.’