The fairy circles of the Namib desert are one of Earth’s great mysteries, captivating the attention of the global public, the local Himba people who have their own creation story for the circles, and the interest of ecologists, complexity scientists, and mathematicians. Fairy circles are evenly-spaced barren patches of ground (3-10 m in diameter) in arid grasslands that persist for 30-60 years, and extend as far as the eye can see in portions of the Namib desert. Their remote location, relatively long lifespan, and harsh environmental conditions make their origination and maintenance difficult to study, perpetuating their placement as one of the great ecological mysteries on Earth.
We are traveling to the NamibRand Nature Reserve in April 2017 to better understand what processes create fairy circles. We will test the most prominent hypotheses for fairy circle formation–including water and nutrient limitation as well as the role of termites as ecosystem engineers. To do so, we will collect vegetation, soil, and water measurements.
Stay tuned as we live-blog from the Namib desert about our field work, the desert wildlife, and our day-to-day experiences! Once back in the United States, we will continue to update the blog as we begin to explore model-data synthesis in the formation of fairy circles.