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
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.
➡ The world is weird as f@#!. Let’s explore it together.
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