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Japan’s white-spotted pufferfish are renowned for producing complex, ringed patterns in the sand. Now, 5,500 kilometers away in Australia, scientists have discovered what appear to be dozens more of these creations.
While conducting a marine life survey out on Australia’s North West Shelf near subsea gas infrastructure with an autonomous underwater vehicle, marine ecologist Todd Bond spotted a striking pattern on the seafloor, more than 100 meters deep. “Immediately, I knew what it was,” recounts Bond, of the University of Western Australia in Perth. Bond and his colleagues continued the survey, ultimately finding nearly two dozen more.
Until now, these undersea “crop circles” were found only off the coast of Japan. First spotted in the 1990s, it took two decades to solve the mystery of what created them. In 2011, scientists found the sculptors — the diminutive males of what was then a new species of Torquigener pufferfish. The patterns
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From Popular Mechanics
A pattern described by computer science icon and polymath Alan Turing continues to show up in new scientific research 70 years later. The “Turing pattern” is a widespread phenomenon where noisy systems form stable patterns after being stimulated. The latest example is in “symmetrically spaced” patches of desert grasses, which grow in naturally orderly equilibrium to maximize each patch’s access to limited water.
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In Africa and Australia, desert grasses grow in what are called fairy circles. In the new study, published in the Journal of Ecology, scientists explain:
“This pattern has been explained with scale-dependent ecohydrological feedbacks and the reaction-diffusion, or Turing mechanism, used in process-based models that are rooted in physics and pattern-formation theory.”
But modeling a true Turing pattern isn’t as simple as pointing and labeling. Scientists must analyze, which is more challenging
Fairy circles are one of nature’s greatest enigmas and most visually stunning phenomena. An international research team led by the University of Göttingen has now, for the first time, collected detailed data to show that Alan Turing’s model explains the striking vegetation patterns of the Australian fairy circles. In addition, the researchers showed that the grasses that make up these patterns act as “eco-engineers” to modify their own hostile and arid environment, thus keeping the ecosystem functioning. The results were published in the Journal of Ecology.
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Researchers from Germany, Australia and Israel undertook an in-depth fieldwork study in the remote Outback of Western Australia. They used drone technology, spatial statistics, quadrat-based field mapping, and continuous data-recording from a field-weather station. With the drone and a multispectral camera, the researchers mapped the “vitality status” of the Triodia grasses (how strong and how well they grew) in five one-hectare plots and