A multi‐scale study of Australian fairy circles using soil excavations and drone‐based image analysis

The Ecological Society of America publishes 6 journals with its publishing partner, John Wiley & Sons. ESA journals are among the most widely read and cited journals in the field of ecology.  In their February 20, 2019 edition of Ecosphere, they published a paper on a multi‐scale study of Australian fairy circles using soil excavations and drone‐based image analysis using a Microdrones md4-1000.

The Ecological Society of America (ESA) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization of scientists founded in 1915 to:

  • promote ecological science by improving communication among ecologists;
  • raise the public’s level of awareness of the importance of ecological science;
  • increase the resources available for the conduct of ecological science; and
  • ensure the appropriate use of ecological science in environmental decision making by enhancing communication between the ecological community and policy-makers.

Ecology is the scientific discipline that is concerned with the relationships between organisms and their past, present, and future environments. These relationships include physiological responses of individuals, structure and dynamics of populations, interactions among species, organization of biological communities, and processing of energy and matter in ecosystems.

The Paper: 

Click here to download a multi‐scale study of Australian fairy circles using soil excavations and drone‐based image analysis

Fairy circles (FCs) are extremely ordered round patches of bare soil within arid grasslands of southwestern Africa and northwestern Australia. Their origin is disputed because biotic factors such as insects or abiotic factors such as edaphic and eco‐hydrological feedback mechanisms have been suggested to be causal.

In this research, the team used a multi‐scale approach to shed light on the origin of Australian FCs. At a local scale, they investigated the potential cause of FCs using analyses of soil compaction and texture within FCs, the surrounding matrix vegetation, and in nearby large bare‐soil areas.

At the landscape scale, a systematic survey of 154 soil excavations within FCs was undertaken to evaluate the presence of pavement termitaria that could inhibit plant growth.

 At the regional scale, they investigated the spatial properties of FCs and common termite‐created gaps in Western Australia, using spatially explicit statistics. Three 25‐ha FC plots were mapped with a Microdrone md4-1000 and compared with three aerial images of typical vegetation gaps created by harvester and spinifex termites.


Impressions of FCs, gaps created by harvester termites, spinifex termite mounds, and research equipment. A spatially homogeneous and strongly ordered FC pattern of the plot FC‐C2, taken with a drone at 90 m above ground (A). The median diameter of gaps in this plot was 4.3 m. Ground image of a typical large FC in the plot FC‐C2 (B). A spatially heterogeneous and less ordered pattern of gaps created by harvester termites at the plot HT‐1 at Jigalong Road 50 km northeast of Newman, Australia (C). The image has the same scale as (A) and was also taken 90 m above ground. Ground image of a typical small termite gap in the plot HT‐1 (D). The scale bar in (B, D) is 0.5 m long. View over the large mounds (arrows) created by spinifex termites at the plot ST‐1 (E). The quadcopter Microdrone md4‐1000 and its base station used in this survey (F).