Send to

Choose Destination
PLoS One. 2012;7(6):e38056. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0038056. Epub 2012 Jun 27.

The life cycle and life span of Namibian fairy circles.

Author information

Department of Biological Science, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, United States of America.


In Namibia of southwestern Africa, the sparse grasslands that develop on deep sandy soils under rainfall between 50 and 100 mm per annum are punctuated by thousands of quasi-circular bare spots, usually surrounded by a ring of taller grass. The causes of these so-called "fairy circles" are unknown, although a number of hypotheses have been proposed. This paper provides a more complete description of the variation in size, density and attributes of fairy circles in a range of soil types and situations. Circles are not permanent; their vegetative and physical attributes allow them to be arranged into a life history sequence in which circles appear (birth), develop (mature) and become revegetated (die). Occasionally, they also enlarge. The appearance and disappearance of circles was confirmed from satellite images taken 4 years apart (2004, 2008). The frequency of births and deaths as a fraction of the total population of circles allowed the calculation of an approximate turnover rate, and from this, an estimate of circle lifespan. Lifespan appeared to vary with circle size, with small circles averaging about 24 years, and larger ones 43-75 years. Overall lifespan averaged about 41 yr. A second, independent estimate of lifespan was made by revisiting circles 2 to 9 years after their clear status had been confirmed. This resulted in a lifespan estimate of about 60 years. Any causal explanation of fairy circles must include their birth, development and death, their mean lifespan and the variation of their features under different conditions.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Public Library of Science Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center