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cause plant circles in African deserts

These fairy rings of perennial grass species dot arid, sandy sweeps from Angola to South Africa and have inspired ecological and mythological speculation about their origins. After 40 trips to study the water distribution and life around the fairy rings, Norbert Jrgens of the University of Hamburg in Germany concludes that the sand termite Psammotermes allocerus is the hidden force behind them.

Among the hundreds of species that thrive in these rings, the sand termite is the only one found throughout the range, he reports in the March 29 Science.

Termites unintentionally engineer these marvels by eating the roots of grasses, creating a bald patch that becomes the rings center. The subsurface depths of that patch stay moister than neighboring areas, where plants draw the water out of the soil. The circles bulls eye favors not only the moistureloving termites, but also a belt around its edge of perennial grasses and many other species that couldnt survive baked sand.

As ecosystem engineers, Jrgens says, the sand termite rivals the beaver.

Am I correct in my interpretation that the rings of perrenial grasses are there because they can draw on the moisture not only of the soils directly below themselves, but also on the adjacent soils within the rings. This would indicate that the grasses can be present in otherwise inhospitable conditions because of the lack of competition for the water within the circles. They can draw from a larger area than would be possible were the vegetation more densely packed. In the latter case, a different species would crowd them out.

The termites should be eating their roots too. The ability of the grasses to survive where other plants dont suggests either the grasses have some mode of discouraging termite foraging some biodefense, better ability to repair termite damage, or alternately that the moisture in rootfree soils is being drawn laterally through the soils to the roots by the capillary suctions so the plants in the ring dont have to have roots extend into the ring.

One other thought concerns the termite food supply. Perhaps the continuing production of roots by the surrounding grass ring provides a sustainable condition. The termites dont overgraze during most moisture conditions so the grasses can survive the grazing losses while still getting enough water to produce enough biomass to keep the termites from expanding the rings and destroying the grasses. Probably during droughts the rings would expand, but during wetter periods perhaps the grasses would actually encroach on the bare areas. This would be an interesting study. I also wonder how far the plants could draw moisture laterally from the soils beyond the extent of their roots. An interesting question for soil physics. I dont know the answer, but am curious.

I also wonder what limits the termite population so they dont overeat their food supply? As the ring diameter increases, geometry will have certain effects. The amount of biomass in the ring will increase linearly with the radius by the simple formula relating perimeter to radius. The travel distance from the center of the circle also increases, increasing the energy cost to the termites to travel to their food supply. Also, as the ring diameter increases, the curvature of the grassy ring decreases, becoming progressively more like a straight line. If the distance of effective capillary draw from within the ring is significant and is less than the radius of the circle a guess, I dont know, then the area of the wedge of soil from which adjacent grasses draw will increase as the curvature decreases, adding a bit more water to the adjacent grass plants as the ring grows. The significance of this geometric factor depends on the distance of capillary draw and radius of the circle and will vary as the ring grows.

All of this speculation is building fairy castles in the air as this is outside my field of expertise. I know little about soil physics and capillary movements in soils and plant root action and next to nothing about termite ecology, its energy balances, and other factors that control termite population. This is not how I would proceed were I actually studying this as a scientist, but is fun as a dilletante exercise.

In case anyone is wondering, I am only making dilletante comments on this because I dont subscribe to Science so I cant read the article itself to learn more about the underlying study and also because I cant afford the time to pursue all the things I find interesting or I really would become just a dilletante. Unfortunately, there is only one of me and I can readily generate more work than ten of me could do in the first iteration and then exponentially more than that as the multiple mes pursues the ongoing expansion of the things that interest me. As I have leisure to broaden my interests, I will still have to continually truncate what I wish to pursue to keep things manageable. The world has multiple wonders that keep a curious mind interested, but one cant pursue everything and still achieve any real understanding of anything.

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Citations to Shakespeares plays

When you quote from a play, divide lines of verse with slashes the way you would if quoting poetry. You can tell a passage is in verse by examining it to see if every line starts with a capital letter, regardless of whether the line starts a sentence.

When you quote prose from a play, no slashes are necessary. You can recognize prose by the fact that, in prose, every sentence begins with a capital letter, but not every line on the page.

Please note that your references at the end of your quotations should refer to Act, scene and line numbers as in the examples above , not to page numbers. You may either use Roman numerals or Arabic ones as you prefer.

If you are quoting more than three lines, you will need to indent your quotation. The lines should be arranged as they appear in the text if you are quoting verse and arranged as a paragraph if you are quoting prose.

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Rumors On Upcoming Releases

Walk on Mars using the Oculus Rift and Omni treadmill August 6, 2013 at 11:47 amThe Oculus Rift is still in development kit mode, with no timetable for an official retail release on the horizon. When the Rift tech demos work, they work well, but they very simple and often don allow the user to do much. NASA got ahold of a Rift and an Omni a multidirectional treadmill and created a tech demo in which you can walk around on Mars. The truth is more complicated.

Xbox One is built to last for 10 years while powered on, sources say August 2, 2013 at 1:31 pmIt seems Microsoft learned its lesson with the high failure rates of Xbox 360s, and plans on keeping the hardware lowpower, cool, and well ventilated. Reportedly, Microsoft wants each Xbox One system to last for ten years even with the console turned on the entire time.

Xbox One and PS4 hardware specs are the same, says John Carmack August 2, 2013 at 11:29 amAccording to John Carmack, the PS4 and Xbox One hardware is the same. This comes at an interesting time, as Microsoft has just boosted the Xbox One GPU to keep up with the PS4 significantly 50% more powerful GPU. In the same keynote talk, Carmack makes two other interesting observations: Three or four years ago, he thought that Intel would make a play for the console space with its nowDOA Larrabee GPU or, alternatively, that the Xbox One and PS4 could easily have been based on architectures with ARM cores and whole bunch of PowerVR graphics cores. Today, Microsoft confirms that the console GPU will receive a modest boost in power.

Nvidia Shield benchmarked and torn down: Is this the first and last Tegra 4 device? August 1, 2013 at 10:36 amYesterday, Nvidia Shield handheld game console was finally released to the public and today, it has been torn down and benchmarked, revealing impressive performance figures for the Tegra 4 SoC first outing. The first batch of Shield reviews were generally negative, citing a high price and limited games library, but they did all agree on one positive point: The crippling lack of functionality aside, the hardware itself is seriously impressive.

DIY external Thunderbolt GPU turbocharges MacBook Air graphics performance by 7X July 31, 2013 at 9:30 amAn enthusiast gamer and Macbook Air gamer has worked out a method for combining an external desktop GPU, various adapters, and a Thunderbolt controller on Windows 7. The performance gains are substantial how long before Intel starts approving official solutions?

PS4 vs. Xbox One performance compared, using representative PC hardware July 30, 2013 at 11:23 amThe Xbox One and PS4 have very similar hardware specs. When it comes to the GPUs, however, there a clearcut leader: the GPU in the PS4 has 50% higher peak performance than the GPU in the Xbox One. As you probably know, though, peak performance isn an indicator of realworld frame rate improvements or image quality that why Digital Foundry set out to replicate the Xbox One and PS4, using PC hardware, to see whether the PS4 actually has the edge.

New PS4 details: 2,000 friend slots, crossgame chat is free for all, DualShock 3 not compatible July 29, 2013 at 3:10 pmWe only four months away from the presumed launch of the next generation of game consoles, and the internet is clamoring for new information. In response, Sony has deemed fit to post a video answering some of the most burning questions surrounding the PS4. From the number of slots on the PSN friends list to the existence of 3D games, this video from PlayStation Access covers a lot of ground.

Goodbye 4K: $17,000 12K gaming PC pushes 1.5 billion pixels per second July 26, 2013 at 2:15 pm4K displays are slowly trickling out, and slowly trickling down in price. The problem with the resolution, though, is that not only are the displays very expensive, but there isn really any native 4K media. Some games and videos look fine when upscaled to 4K, but that not true 4K. Though the resolution is still too young to even have native media, one man decided 4K was a thing of the past, and built a 12K gaming PC.