Title page for ETD etd-01172008-125625

Document Type Master's Dissertation
Author Joubert, Angelique
Email angelique.joubert@up.ac.za
URN etd-01172008-125625
Document Title Investigation on selected biotic and abiotic factors in the maintenance of the "fairy circles" (barren patches) of southern Africa
Degree MSc
Department Plant Science
Advisor Name Title
Prof J J M Meyer Committee Chair
  • allelopathy
  • Euphorbia damarana
  • Stipagrostis uniplumis
  • mycorrhizae
  • fairy circles
Date 2008-02-15
Availability unrestricted

The fairy circles are an intriguing and unexplained feature of the pro-Namib in Namibia and northwestern parts of South Africa. The presence of hundreds of almost circular patches where no plants grow were first mentioned in scientific literature in 1971 and since then scientists have tried to find an explanation for the origin of these circles. Although there are many hypotheses regarding the origin of these circles not one of these can explain the existence of these circles satisfactory. In this study several aspects of the fairy circles were investigated to improve the characterization of the phenomenon.

Total element analysis of the soil from the different microhabitats (inside the circle, on the edge of the circle and between the circles, referred to hereafter as the matrix) and at different depths in these microhabitats were performed by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) and analyzed by principal component analysis (PCA). No patterns emerged regarding the concentration of the elements in the respective microhabitats. The occurrence of vesicular arbuscular mycorrhizae (VAM) in the roots of plants collected from the different microhabitats was also investigated. It was shown that VAM occurred in most of the roots of plants collected in the matrix and on the edge but no VAM were found in plants collected inside the circles. The succulent plant Euphorbia damarana has also been implicated in the origin of the circles. The presence of germination inhibiting compounds in this species was investigated. No such compounds were found. The extracts of it inhibited the growth of radicles of lettuce seeds at a concentration of 25 mg/ml.

Bio-assays were also performed on soil collected in the different microhabitats using a dominant grass of the area, Stipagrostis uniplumis, as bioindicator. The fresh an dry shoot mass of plants harvested from soil collected on the edge and in the matrix grew much better than the shoots grown in soil collected from the inside of the circles (p = 0.0007). The dry shoot mass showed the same trend as the fresh shoot mass. The fresh root mass showed a marked increase in the roots collected from soil on the edge of circles when compared to plants grown in soil collected from the inside and the matrix (p = 0.013). There was a significant difference in the length of shoots measured in plants grown in the soils collected from the different microhabitats with the shoots measured from plants grown in the soil collected from the edge showing stimulation in growth when compared to the plants grown in soil from the matrix and inside the circles (p = 0.00004). The difference in shoot length between grasses grown in soil collected from the edge and the matrix was also significant (p = 0.00004) with the edge samples showing a stimulation in growth.

University of Pretoria 2008

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