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News Article | April 26, 2017
Site: phys.org

Adonis vernalis disappeared from Halle in the 19th century. This species depends on nitrogen-poor soil. It is currently classified as endangered in Germany. Credit: André Künzelmann / UFZ All over the globe, the urbanisation of landscapes is increasing. 60% of the land surface which is expected to be urban by 2030 is currently not built on at all. How this will impact on biological diversity will only be apparent in retrospect. However, for most cities there have been systematic surveys of biological diversity, although only since the second half of the 20th century. Researchers at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) and the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) have now revealed, on the basis of historical data, how plant diversity in the region of Halle an der Saale has changed in over 300 years of urbanisation, and have also made predictions about the future. The researchers drew on lists of species published by botanists since the 17th century as well as data from herbaria. In the 1680s, for example, physician Christoph Knauth, who was interested in botany, recorded the plant species that occurred in the area of the modern city of Halle. Rather than limiting himself to plants of pharmaceutical interest, as was usual in the 17th century, he produced an almost complete list of species. His work Enumeratio Plantarum Circa Halam Saxonum Et In Eius Vicinia, Ad Trium Fere Milliarium Spatium, Sponte Provenientium was published in 1687. In the centuries that followed, during which the city's population increased more than tenfold, more than 20 botanists recorded the flora of Halle. Using this comprehensive data, the team led by UFZ geoecologist Dr. Sonja Knapp were able to demonstrate that the number of plant species in Halle has risen considerably between the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 21st – from 711 to 860 species. At the same time, however, the evolutionary diversity of plants has declined: native species from a wide range of plant families have died out regionally and been replaced by more closely related species. These include both common native species and non-native species introduced from other parts of the world. Overall, 4.7 billion years of evolutionary history have therefore been lost in the Halle region, so great is the loss of evolutionary diversity – calculated on the basis of plant pedigrees. As well as looking back over the past three centuries, the researchers looked ahead to the future. The team calculated how the current evolutionary diversity of Halle's flora would change if, firstly, the plants found in Halle listed on the Red List of endangered species disappeared and, secondly, the most common introduced species in Germany which are not yet found in Halle were to migrate there. "Evolutionary diversity will very probably continue to fall," says Dr. Marten Winter from iDiv, who participated in the study. The evolutionary diversity of plants is considered to be an important foundation for the stability of ecosystems. It stimulates the diversity of other organisms and can increase biomass production. How many millions of years of evolutionary history would need to be lost to make an ecosystem unstable is however not yet known. Researchers are therefore appealing for the precautionary protection of biological diversity. As the loss of evolutionary diversity in Halle is primarily being driven by the loss of native species – including many species which depend on cool, nutrient-poor environments – Sonja Knapp and her colleagues are calling for more protection for these species and their habitats. Explore further: Plant species living in urban backyards are closer related to each other and live shorter than species in the countrysid More information: Sonja Knapp et al. Increasing species richness but decreasing phylogenetic richness and divergence over a 320-year period of urbanization, Journal of Applied Ecology (2016). DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12826


News Article | May 3, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

Phthalates, which are used as plasticizers in plastics, can considerably increase the risk of allergies among children. This was demonstrated by UFZ researchers in conjunction with scientists from the University of Leipzig and the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) in a current study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. According to this study, an increased risk of children developing allergic asthma exists if the mother has been particularly heavily exposed to phthalates during pregnancy and breastfeeding. The mother-child cohort from the LINA study was the starting and end point of this translational study. In our day-to-day lives, we come into contact with countless plastics containing plasticizers. These plasticizers, which also include the aforementioned phthalates, are used when processing plastics in order to make the products more flexible. Phthalates can enter our bodies through the skin, foodstuffs or respiration. "It is a well-known fact that phthalates affect our hormone system and can thereby have an adverse effect on our metabolism or fertility. But that's not the end of it," says UFZ environmental immunologist Dr Tobias Polte. "The results of our current study demonstrate that phthalates also interfere with the immune system and can significantly increase the risk of developing allergies." At the outset of the study, the team of UFZ researchers examined the urine of pregnant women from the LINA (lifestyle and environmental factors and their influence on the newborn-allergy-risk) mother-child cohort study and searched for metabolites of phthalates. The concentration level determined in each case was found to correlate with the occurrence of allergic asthma among the children. "There was a clearly discernible relationship between higher concentrations of the metabolite of benzylbutylphthalate (BBP) in the mother's urine and the presence of allergic asthma in their children", explains Dr Irina Lehmann, who heads the LINA study. Researchers were able to confirm the results from the mother-child cohort in the mouse model in collaboration with colleagues from the Medical Faculty at the University of Leipzig. In this process, mice were exposed to a certain phthalate concentration during pregnancy and the lactation period, which led to comparable concentrations of the BBP metabolite in urine to those observed in heavily exposed mothers from the LINA cohort. The offspring demonstrated a clear tendency to develop allergic asthma; even the third generation continued to be affected. Among the adult mice, on the other hand, there were no increased allergic symptoms. "The time factor is therefore decisive: if the organism is exposed to phthalates during the early stages of development, this may have effects on the risk of illness for the two subsequent generations," explains Polte. "The prenatal development process is thus clearly altered by the phthalate exposure." In order to establish precisely what may have been modified, Polte and his team, in collaboration with colleagues from the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), took a close look at the genes of the young mice born to exposed mothers. So-called methyl groups were found in the DNA of these genes - and to a greater extent than is usually the case. In the course of this so-called epigenetic modification of the DNA, methyl groups attach themselves to a gene like a kind of padlock and thus prevent its code from being read, meaning that the associated protein cannot be produced. After the researchers treated the mice with a special substance intended to crack the methyl "locks" on the affected genes, the mice demonstrated fewer signs of allergic asthma than before. Dr Polte concludes the following: "Phthalates apparently switch off decisive genes by means of DNA methylation, causing the activity of these genes to be reduced in the young mice." But which genes cause allergic asthma if they cannot be read? So-called T-helper 2 cells play a central part in the development of allergies. These are kept in check by special opponents (repressors). If a repressor gene cannot be read as a result of being blocked by methyl groups, the T-helper 2 cells that are conducive to the development of allergies are no longer sufficiently inhibited, meaning that an allergy is likely to develop. "We surmise that this connection is decisive for the development of allergic asthma caused by phthalates," says Polte. "Furthermore, in the cell experiment, we were able to demonstrate that there is an increased formation of T-helper 2 cells from the immune cells of the offspring of exposed mother mice than is the case for the offspring of non-exposed animals. This enabled us to establish an increased tendency towards allergies once again." In mice, the researchers were able to prove that a repressor gene that has been switched off due to DNA methylation is responsible for the development of allergic asthma. But does this mechanism also play a part in humans? In order to answer this question, the researchers consulted the LINA cohort once more. They searched for the corresponding gene among the children with allergic asthma and studied the degree of methylation and gene activity. Here, too, it became apparent that the gene was blocked by methyl groups and thus could not be read. "Thanks to our translational study approach - which led from humans via the mouse model and cellular culture back to humans again - we have been able to demonstrate that epigenetic modifications are apparently responsible for the fact that children of mothers who had a high exposure to phthalates during pregnancy and breastfeeding have an increased risk of developing allergic asthma," says Polte. "The objective of our further research will be to understand exactly how specific phthalates give rise to the methylation of genes which are relevant for the development of allergies." Susanne Jahreis, Saskia Trump, Mario Bauer, Tobias Bauer, Loreen Thu?rmann, Ralph Feltens, Qi Wang, Lei Gu, Konrad Gru?tzmann, Stefan Röder, Marco Averbeck, Dieter Weichenhan, Christoph Plass, Ulrich Sack, Michael Borte, Virginie Dubourg, Gerrit, Schu?u?rmann, Jan C. Simon, Martin von Bergen, Jörg Hackermu?ller, Roland Eils, Irina Lehmann, Tobias Polte (2017): Maternal phthalate exposure promotes allergic airway inflammation over two generations via epigenetic modifications, Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology; doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2017.03.017; http://doi. PD Dr Tobias Polte Head of the Helmholtz University Research Group "Experimental Allergology and Immunology" Tel.: +49 341 235-1545 E-mail: tobias.polte@ufz.de https:/ Dr Irina Lehmann Head of the UFZ Department of Environmental Immunology Tel.: +49 341 235-1216 Email: irina.lehmann@ufz.de http://www.


News Article | May 17, 2017
Site: phys.org

The iDiv Ecotron, a central experiment platform of the DFG Research Centre iDiv. Credit: Tilo Arnhold, iDiv Bad Lauchstädt. The iDiv Ecotron, a central experimental platform of the DFG Research Centre iDiv, was officially launched during a ceremony last Wednesday. Researchers will use this unique facility to better understand the consequences of species loss. The iDiv Ecotron will enable investigations into the interactions within food webs among plants, animals, microbes and the soil under controlled conditions in 24 experimental chambers. Over 3.7 million euros have been invested into this modern platform, which is operated jointly by the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig and the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), and is anticipated to bridge the gap between simple laboratory experiments and complex ecosystem approaches. The iDiv Ecotron enriches the field research station of the UFZ in Bad Lauchstädt, which is gaining national and international stature as an ecological research station due to the cooperation between the UFZ and iDiv. Many human activities are causing species loss. According to a number of estimates, numerous species of invertebrates are becoming extinct daily. Yet, what does this mean for the functioning of ecosystems? The following is clear: high species diversity has a positive effect on numerous functions of ecosystems. Thus, for example, a large number of plant species increases the production of biomass such as hay and wood, or the storage of climate-impacting carbon in the soil. This is demonstrated by experiments from various research platforms such as the Jena Experiment or the Biodiversity Exploratories of the German Research Foundation, which also involve researchers from iDiv and UFZ. Little is known, however, about the role of small herbivores (e.g. snails or caterpillars), predators (e.g. ladybirds or spiders) or animals that live underground (e.g. earthworms or nematodes) and micro-organisms (e.g. bacteria or fungi). We know that these organisms play an important role in the food web and have a positive influence on many functions of ecosystems. Pollinators like bees and bumblebees, for example, are indispensable for the reproduction of many plant species. Other insects such as ants help plants spread their seeds. Decomposers such as earthworms and soil micro-organisms recycle nutrients for plant growth. But such dependencies between different food web components have, so far, been investigated in closer detail in only a few cases. Researchers plan to use the new research platform to change this. The iDiv Ecotron has been designed to find out how the disappearance of species at different locations of the food web impacts the functioning of ecosystems. This fundamental biological research has far-reaching economic relevance: functioning ecosystems are the basis for a series of so-called ecosystem services such as the provision of clean drinking water, food, and energy sources, which nature provides to people. UFZ scientists estimate that insects benefit the global economy in the realm of approximately 150 billion euros per year, just by pollinating cultivated plants in agriculture. Until now, it has been very difficult to make such estimates for other animals or micro-organisms. How many losses can ecosystems cope with? If many species are present, this has positive effects on ecosystems. But what happens when certain species disappear from complex food webs? Can their function be taken over by other species? How many losses can ecosystems take? The iDiv Ecotron chambers carefully examine the food web in all its complexity. In addition, researchers can replace or entirely remove certain animal and plant species in the closed systems. "We can examine, for example, the interplay and the interactions among different species above and below the soil", explains Prof. Nico Eisenhauer (iDiv and Leipzig University), who manages the facility. "Similar to a climate chamber, which simulates the warmer climate of the future, the iDiv Ecotron enables us to look at a future world which contains fewer species." In doing so, Eisenhauer and his colleagues wish to investigate three key issues: Does the complexity of the interactions between the species affect the functions of an ecosystem? How dependent are ecosystem functions on the relationships between aboveground and belowground organisms and processes? What are the impacts of global change on biodiversity, interaction networks and ecosystem functions? These environmental issues are of far-reaching importance. The German Research Foundation (DFG) has, for that reason, funded the facility with roughly three million euros and is financing two employees. Also involved financially, the UFZ has modernised the hall of the iDiv Ecotron for three-quarters of a million euros and is financing one employee. The goal of the experimental chambers is to explore ecosystem functions by manipulating complex animal and plant communities. The environmental conditions must be as constant as possible to avoid disruptive events, which could distort the results. The 24 chambers are therefore all structurally identical and deploy extensive technology, which sets and adjusts the light, temperature and precipitation. That means that, for the first time, it will be possible to manipulate aboveground and belowground communities and their interactions on relevant spatial scales. The "EcoUnits" are experimental chambers, which consist of a bottom section filled with soil, a top section, and a technical section, and stand 1.55 x 1.55 metres wide and 3.20 metres high. Each "EcoUnit" can be divided into up to four largely independent compartments, due to aboveground partition walls and underground steel cylinders (lysimeters). All chambers are equipped with extensive technology. This includes, for example, cameras that observe the interactions between animals and plants. "Because such a facility has not yet been built, we have invested a lot of time over the past years in developing and optimising the technology together with the manufacturers. In some areas, we had to enter uncharted territory, which has often not been easy. We're so much happier that everything is now running and the scientific experiments can finally start", reported Dr. Manfred Türke from the iDiv and Leipzig University, who is coordinating the work at the facility. After the pilot phase, the facility will also be made available to external scientists. A commission will decide on proposals and applications and allocate the capacities - as is customary for large-scale scientific research equipment of international importance. The iDiv Ecotron enriches the field research station of the UFZ in Bad Lauchstädt, which is gaining in national and international stature as an ecological research station due to the cooperation between the UFZ and iDiv. In addition to a multitude of experiments in soil and biodiversity research at this location, since 2013 the UFZ has operated a globally unique outdoor experiment known as the Global Change Experimental Facility (GCEF), in which a seven-hectare test area is used to examine the impact of climate change on different forms of land use. "The research station in Bad Lauchstädt, with a total area of about 40 hectares, has in recent years already made a name for itself among ecologists, thanks to the highly varied range of experiments. The station is now getting a further boost thanks to its collaboration with iDiv. "And actually, many experiments have only just started", says a delighted Prof. François Buscot, who as head of the UFZ department of soil ecology is jointly responsible for the research station of the UFZ in Bad Lauchstädt, and is also Deputy Director of iDiv. Three platforms are among the new experiments: the MyDiv tree diversity experiment, the NutNet global research initiative to examine changes in nutrient availability and Drought-Net, the global network to examine the effects of extreme drought. With immediate effect, the iDiv Ecotron will complement these field experiments in Bad Lauchstädt and enrich biodiversity research in central Germany. Explore further: When peaceful coexistence suddenly turns into competition


News Article | May 17, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

Bad Lauchstädt. The iDiv Ecotron, a central experimental platform of the DFG Research Centre iDiv, was officially launched during a ceremony last Wednesday. Researchers will use this unique facility to better understand the consequences of species loss. The iDiv Ecotron will enable investigations into the interactions within food webs among plants, animals, microbes and the soil under controlled conditions in 24 experimental chambers. Over 3.7 million euros have been invested into this modern platform, which is operated jointly by the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig and the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), and is anticipated to bridge the gap between simple laboratory experiments and complex ecosystem approaches. The iDiv Ecotron enriches the field research station of the UFZ in Bad Lauchstädt, which is gaining national and international stature as an ecological research station due to the cooperation between the UFZ and iDiv. Many human activities are causing species loss. According to a number of estimates, numerous species of invertebrates are becoming extinct daily. Yet, what does this mean for the functioning of ecosystems? The following is clear: high species diversity has a positive effect on numerous functions of ecosystems. Thus, for example, a large number of plant species increases the production of biomass such as hay and wood, or the storage of climate-impacting carbon in the soil. This is demonstrated by experiments from various research platforms such as the Jena Experiment or the Biodiversity Exploratories of the German Research Foundation, which also involve researchers from iDiv and UFZ. Little is known, however, about the role of small herbivores (e.g. snails or caterpillars), predators (e.g. ladybirds or spiders) or animals that live underground (e.g. earthworms or nematodes) and micro-organisms (e.g. bacteria or fungi). We know that these organisms play an important role in the food web and have a positive influence on many functions of ecosystems. Pollinators like bees and bumblebees, for example, are indispensable for the reproduction of many plant species. Other insects such as ants help plants spread their seeds. Decomposers such as earthworms and soil micro-organisms recycle nutrients for plant growth. But such dependencies between different food web components have, so far, been investigated in closer detail in only a few cases. Researchers plan to use the new research platform to change this. The iDiv Ecotron has been designed to find out how the disappearance of species at different locations of the food web impacts the functioning of ecosystems. This fundamental biological research has far-reaching economic relevance: functioning ecosystems are the basis for a series of so-called ecosystem services such as the provision of clean drinking water, food, and energy sources, which nature provides to people. UFZ scientists estimate that insects benefit the global economy in the realm of approximately 150 billion euros per year, just by pollinating cultivated plants in agriculture. Until now, it has been very difficult to make such estimates for other animals or micro-organisms. If many species are present, this has positive effects on ecosystems. But what happens when certain species disappear from complex food webs? Can their function be taken over by other species? How many losses can ecosystems take? The iDiv Ecotron chambers carefully examine the food web in all its complexity. In addition, researchers can replace or entirely remove certain animal and plant species in the closed systems. "We can examine, for example, the interplay and the interactions among different species above and below the soil", explains Prof. Nico Eisenhauer (iDiv and Leipzig University), who manages the facility. "Similar to a climate chamber, which simulates the warmer climate of the future, the iDiv Ecotron enables us to look at a future world which contains fewer species." In doing so, Eisenhauer and his colleagues wish to investigate three key issues: Does the complexity of the interactions between the species affect the functions of an ecosystem? How dependent are ecosystem functions on the relationships between aboveground and belowground organisms and processes? What are the impacts of global change on biodiversity, interaction networks and ecosystem functions? These environmental issues are of far-reaching importance. The German Research Foundation (DFG) has, for that reason, funded the facility with roughly three million euros and is financing two employees. Also involved financially, the UFZ has modernised the hall of the iDiv Ecotron for three-quarters of a million euros and is financing one employee. The goal of the experimental chambers is to explore ecosystem functions by manipulating complex animal and plant communities. The environmental conditions must be as constant as possible to avoid disruptive events, which could distort the results. The 24 chambers are therefore all structurally identical and deploy extensive technology, which sets and adjusts the light, temperature and precipitation. That means that, for the first time, it will be possible to manipulate aboveground and belowground communities and their interactions on relevant spatial scales. The "EcoUnits" are experimental chambers, which consist of a bottom section filled with soil, a top section, and a technical section, and stand 1.55 x 1.55 metres wide and 3.20 metres high. Each "EcoUnit" can be divided into up to four largely independent compartments, due to aboveground partition walls and underground steel cylinders (lysimeters). All chambers are equipped with extensive technology. This includes, for example, cameras that observe the interactions between animals and plants. "Because such a facility has not yet been built, we have invested a lot of time over the past years in developing and optimising the technology together with the manufacturers. In some areas, we had to enter uncharted territory, which has often not been easy. We're so much happier that everything is now running and the scientific experiments can finally start", reported Dr. Manfred Türke from the iDiv and Leipzig University, who is coordinating the work at the facility. After the pilot phase, the facility will also be made available to external scientists. A commission will decide on proposals and applications and allocate the capacities - as is customary for large-scale scientific research equipment of international importance. The iDiv Ecotron enriches the field research station of the UFZ in Bad Lauchstädt, which is gaining in national and international stature as an ecological research station due to the cooperation between the UFZ and iDiv. In addition to a multitude of experiments in soil and biodiversity research at this location, since 2013 the UFZ has operated a globally unique outdoor experiment known as the Global Change Experimental Facility (GCEF), in which a seven-hectare test area is used to examine the impact of climate change on different forms of land use. "The research station in Bad Lauchstädt, with a total area of about 40 hectares, has in recent years already made a name for itself among ecologists, thanks to the highly varied range of experiments. The station is now getting a further boost thanks to its collaboration with iDiv. "And actually, many experiments have only just started", says a delighted Prof. François Buscot, who as head of the UFZ department of soil ecology is jointly responsible for the research station of the UFZ in Bad Lauchstädt, and is also Deputy Director of iDiv. Three platforms are among the new experiments: the MyDiv tree diversity experiment, the NutNet global research initiative to examine changes in nutrient availability and Drought-Net, the global network to examine the effects of extreme drought. With immediate effect, the iDiv Ecotron will complement these field experiments in Bad Lauchstädt and enrich biodiversity research in central Germany.


News Article | December 14, 2016
Site: www.eurekalert.org

For bacteria, soil is difficult terrain, with dry areas and air spaces presenting insurmountable obstacles. In order to get around, they need a liquid film in which to swim. They don't demand much: the mucous layer surrounding fungal hyphae is all they need to be able to move around -- and they take advantage of it. The fungal network (mycelium) also provides bacteria with an excellent infrastructure: there may be hundreds of metres of fungal hyphae winding through just one gram of soil. "In the fine liquid film surrounding the hyphae, bacteria can move with much greater speed and direction and cover more distance than in soil water without hyphae," says Tom Berthold, first author of the study and a doctoral researcher at the UFZ Department of Environmental Microbiology. "For bacteria, fungal hyphae are like a motorway which gives them fast, direct access to their food sources." Because there is often a lot of traffic on the 'fungal highway', the bacteria may come into close contact with one another, exchanging genetic material in the process. "It's similar to the transmission of cold germs on a packed train," explains environmental microbiologist Dr. Lukas Y. Wick. "But unlike a cold, the new genes are usually an asset to the soil bacteria. They enable them to adapt better to different environmental conditions." Depending on the genes they receive through horizontal gene transfer, they may be able to adapt to new environmental conditions or access food sources which they were previously unable to exploit. For example, this might include the pollutants toluene or benzene contained in oil and gasoline, which to bacteria with the right genetic makeup are not only not harmful but actually very tasty food. So the passing on of this ability to other bacterial groups can be very advantageous in terms of the degradation of soil pollutants. In their research, the UFZ scientists were also able to show that much greater gene transfer takes place between bacteria on the fungal highway than in a moist environment without fungal hyphae. Using computer models that calculate the frequency of gene transfer between bacteria on the hyphae, the researchers came to the same result. Wick continues: "Our study shows that fungal hyphae not only provide soil bacteria with an excellent infrastructure, but also a potential hot spot for bacterial horizontal gene transfer. This previously unknown aspect of fungus-bacteria interaction is an important step towards understanding the complex interactions between soil-dwelling microorganisms." Fungi therefore may play a very important role in the highly complex soil habitat: in the spread of soil bacteria, their genetic adaptation and diversity, and ultimately also their evolution. "Just a few years ago, we were still completely unaware of this," says Wick. "It's possible that over the course of the Earth's history, bacterial diversity increased massively with the development of mycelium-forming fungi." As far as the breakdown of pollutants is concerned, the UFZ researchers conjecture that soils containing a lot of fungi are probably better equipped than soils with few fungi. This is because the fungal highway enables pollutant-degrading bacteria to reach their food faster and, with the help of gene transfer, they may even be upgraded along the way. Video "Bacteria on the 'Fungal Highway': Pseudomonas putida moving along hyphae of Cunninghamella elegans": https:/


News Article | March 21, 2016
Site: phys.org

Colourful, low-intensity grasslands not only look attractive, they also offer valuable habitat for many plants and animals. Yet they have become rare in many places. To create more environments that contain grass and herbs, it is usually necessary to sow the appropriate plants. But which seeds should be used? Many scientists and environmentalists are speaking out in favour of seed from the same region as that in which the future grassland will lie. Ecologists from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) in Halle (Saale), Germany, have carried out a joint study with colleagues from the universities of Tübingen and Münster, and TUM (Technische Universität München), to investigate the suitability of this approach. Two studies in the Journal of Applied Ecology have shown that using indigenous seed actually does bring benefits. For many years now, foresters have not just used any random seed when planting new trees. They have long known that not every European beech or Common oak tree is the same. In fact, every species has many variants which have adapted to suit the specific challenges of their environment. Some might, for example, withstand drought better than others, while others might survive harsh winters or thrive in poor soils. For this reason, German forestry has regulations that specify exactly which region the seed must come from, for a particular planting. "To date, there have been no similar regulations for grassland plants", said Dr. Walter Durka, a biologist working at the UFZ. Anyone wanting to create a wildflower meadow in their garden or plant a new grassland habitat as part of a nature conservation project will find a huge range of seed mixtures available for purchase. These will definitely come from native plant species, but might theoretically have been produced anywhere in the world. In 2007 and 2008 alone, Germany imported 13,000 tonnes of grass seed and 280 tonnes of herb seed. "It may be cheaper to buy this seed abroad", he explained, "but the plants may then have adapted to suit conditions somewhere like New Zealand, for example, and not German regions such as Bavaria or Brandenburg". For this reason, many ecologists are speaking out in favour of also using seed from locally grown grassland plants. Scientists from the University of Hanover have also already developed a concept in which Germany is divided up into 22 areas of origin, using different geographical criteria. These areas of origin are then grouped in eight production zones. Several companies are already offering seed whose areas of origin can be precisely traced. Demand for this kind of seed is likely to continue to rise in future. The reason is that, from 2020, only indigenous seed of this kind can be used in Germany for recultivating grasslands in open countryside. Until recently there has simply been insufficient data to provide a well-informed answer to this question. The extent of the actual genetic differences between members of the same species from different areas of origin was simply unknown. And that's without even mentioning whether such differences actually affect how the plants flourish. This is precisely the knowledge gap that the researchers at UFZ wanted to close. Working together with colleagues at TUM (Technische Universität München), and the universities in Tübingen and Münster, they investigated seven common grassland plants that came from eight of the 22 German areas of origin. "We found genetic differences between the regions for all the species", summed up Walter Durka. However, how big these genetic differences are depends on the biology of the particular plant. For example, grasses that are pollinated by the wind, and cannot fertilise themselves, exchange their genetic information over relatively large distances. For this reason, the researchers found the extremely common false oatgrass to have the smallest genetic difference between the regions. The opposite applied in the case of ragged robin. This species uses insects to distribute its pollen, sometimes even between flowers on the same plant. In addition, it is much rarer than false oatgrass. "This all leads to a low gene flow, which results in large genetic differences between populations", explained Walter Durka. In the case of some species such as white bedstraw, the researchers also discovered a definite trend: the genetic differences become ever greater, the further the areas of origin are apart, and the more their climates differ. According to Durka, this is a clear indicator that these plants have adapted to their regional conditions. They should therefore be more successful close to their origin than in other parts of Germany. The team tested whether this hypothesis is correct in a second study. To do so, the researchers sowed the seven species from the eight regions in Freising, Tübingen, Halle (Saale) and Münster, and observed how well they grew, and when they flowered. "In the case of many of the grassland species examined, it was indeed the case that plants that had the same regional origin grew better", reported Dr. Anna Bucharova and Prof. Oliver Bossdorf from the University of Tübingen. For example, on average, regional plants produced seven percent more biomass and ten percent more inflorescences than members of the same species that came from other regions of origin. Even the unusually warm temperatures in summer 2013, when the tests were carried out, had no effect on the test results. Critics of the regional seed concept often argue that it is not future-proof in a time of climate change: their argument is that, as temperatures increase, plants from the south are more likely to succeed than plants from the same region. However, the researchers found no indicators that this is the case: although temperatures in the experimental gardens in 2013 were 1.5 to two degrees above the average, calculated over many years, the plants from warmer regions had no advantage. This may be due to the fact that it is not only the temperature that is the decisive factor in whether growth is better or worse. The length of the days, or the composition of the microbial communities at the particular location, might also play an important role. If the regional plants are better adapted to suit such factors, then they can obviously also make use of their inherent relative strengths in warm years. Yet it was not only the plant itself that profited from its adaptation to regional conditions. The researchers also discovered that the individual variants also flower at different times. Brown knapweed of different origins flowered up to 17 days apart. In the case of white bedstraw the difference was as much as 23 days. "From an ecological point of view, that is a huge difference", said Anna Bucharova. It should also be remembered that many animal species, from the pollinators to the inhabitants of the flower heads to the seed eaters, operate on the time plan that is usual for the region. "Scientifically, there is a real danger that this entire ecosystem could get into difficulties if plants from a different region flowered at the wrong time", she said. This is yet another reason for fostering the use of seed originating from the same region. More information: Walter Durka et al. Genetic differentiation within multiple common grassland plants supports seed transfer zones for ecological restoration, Journal of Applied Ecology (2016). DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12636 Anna Bucharova et al. Genetic differentiation and regional adaptation among seed origins used for grassland restoration: lessons from a multi-species transplant experiment, Journal of Applied Ecology (2016). DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12645


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: www.marketwired.com

- Historical hole located 500 meters east of the deposit returned 31.94 g/t gold over 3.5 meters VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(Marketwired - Feb. 13, 2017) - Columbus Gold Corp. (TSX:CGT)(OTCQX:CBGDF) ("Columbus") is pleased to announce that a drilling program commenced on February 10th, at Columbus Gold's 100% owned Montagne d'Or Gold deposit in French Guiana. Montagne d'Or hosts Indicated mineral resources of 3.9 million ounces (contained within 83.2 million tonnes grading 1.45 g/t gold) and Inferred mineral resources of 1.1 million ounces (contained within 22.4 million tonnes grading 1.55 g/t gold) using a cut-off grade of 0.4 g/t gold (refer to News Release dated April 21, 2015).* In anticipation of the forthcoming completion of a Bankable Feasibility Study on the Montagne d'Or gold deposit, an exploration focused drilling program is being carried-out to assess expansion potential. The program will consist of 36 core holes, for a total 5,520 meters, designed as a first pass investigation of exploration targets on strike of, and in very close proximity of the currently defined mineral resources that form the deposit. Three separate targets will be tested outside of the deposit envelope: In addition, within the Montagne d'Or deposit envelope one hole (hole 01) will test the depth extension of the gold mineralization. To date the vertical depth of drilling has averaged only about 250 meters. Please refer to the following map for the locations of the target areas and planned drill holes: One deep drill hole (hole 01), 750 meters in length will test the down-dip extent of the principal UFZ and secondary LFZ mineralized zones on drill section 2890mE, within the west-central segment of the deposit. This segment displays the best continuity and average grade of the gold mineralized envelopes within the drilled-out area. The UFZ is projected to be intersected at -350 meters of vertical depth from surface (-100m ASL elevation), 100 meters below the intersection of 2.88 g/t gold over 67.0 meters obtained in hole MO-12-72, on drill section 3010mE at 250 meters of vertical depth (0m ASL elevation). A cross section is available at the following link: Magnetic, electromagnetic and radiometric airborne geophysical survey data has traced the prospective volcano-sedimentary sequence hosting the Montagne d'Or gold deposit for up to 5 km to the west. Twenty-three (23) holes on four drill fences, located on sections 2200mE, 2000mE, 1600mE and 1150mE, are planned to test the soil-gold anomaly and rock chip gold values obtained along the western projection of the drill-defined mineral resources. The planned drill fences represent 200, 400, 800 and 1,250 meter step-outs from the western limit of the Montagne d'Or mineral resources at 2400mE. Drill hole fences 1600mE and 1150mE are located on an exclusive exploration permit ("PER") granted to Columbus recently in July 2016 (refer to news release dated July 27th, 2016). Drill hole fences 2200mE and 2000mE (holes 02 to 13) will test the principal UFZ and secondary LFZ zones at 200-meter spacing along strike from drill section 2400mE. The holes will also test the WSW extent of an ENE-trending gold mineralized structure intersected in historical hole MO-97-29 and MO-97-30, which returned intercepts of 10.96 g/t gold over 3.0 meters and 11.58 g/t gold over 4.5 meters, respectively. Drill hole fence 1600mE (holes 14 to 19) was designed to traverse the entire thickness of the prospective volcano-sedimentary sequence, 800 meters on strike from the Montagne d'Or mineral resources. The area geology is masked by a layer of displaced material (landslide) originating from the upper elevations of a massif to the south. Note that the truncation of the soil-gold anomaly over this area is a result of the landslide cover. Drill hole fence 1150mE (holes 20 to 24) will the test the soil-gold anomaly and rock chip gold values obtained from sulphide mineralized volcanics exposed in drainages. The mineralized material type is comparable to the mineralized type at the Montagne d'Or deposit. Drill hole fence 25 to 30 will traverse a broad northwesterly-aligned soil-gold anomaly. The geochemical anomaly, located 500 meters to the east of the eastern limit of the Montagne d'Or mineral resources, straddles the boundary between mining concession C02/46 and an exclusive exploration permits ("PER") granted to Columbus in July 2016. Holes 31 to 33, on the same fence as holes 25 to 30, will investigate a cross-cutting WNW-ESE aligned soil-gold anomaly. The highest values within the Gustave soil-gold anomaly are centered on a quartz vein uncovered at the southwest limit of the trend, referred to as the "Gustave" vein. The Gustave vein, oriented N40°W and dipping 60° to the NE, was tested with two core holes in historical drilling in 1997 (MO-97-47 and -48). An intersection of 31.94 g/t gold over 3.5 meters was returned in hole MO-97-48 within the immediate wall of the vein. Drill holes 34, 35 and 36 will investigate soil-gold anomalies obtained on prominent linear N-S, NNE and NNW-aligned topographic highs, where quartz vein debris is exposed along the flanks. The ridges are interpreted to be cored by resistant quartz veins. Within Columbus' claim block, these structural orientations are known to host quartz-gold veins and stockworks, such as at the Élysée prospect, located 10 km to the west-northwest of the Montagne d'Or deposit. A mining work declaration ("DOTM") and a mining work authorization ("AOTM") to conduct the drilling program on concession C02/46 (Montagne d'Or) and the adjoining Bernard and Cigaline exclusive exploration permits ("PER") were submitted to the Regional Directorate for the Environment, Development and Housing ("DEAL"), which regulates mining and exploration activities in French Guiana. Columbus has been authorized to commence drilling operations. A Preliminary Economic Assessment ("PEA")** for the Montagne d'Or deposit was completed by SRK Consulting (U.S.) Inc. in July 2015 (refer to News Releases dated July 8, 2015 and August 4, 2015). The PEA estimates approximately 273,000 ounces of gold produced per year in the first 10 years of production at an All-In Sustaining Capital Cost per ounce of US$711, and a mined head-grade of 2.0 g/t gold. A Bankable Feasibility Study is scheduled to be completed in the first quarter of 2017. The study is being funded by Nord Gold S.E. pursuant to which they can earn a 55.01% interest in the Montagne d'Or deposit. Rock Lefrançois, Chief Operating Officer for Columbus and Qualified Person under National Instrument 43-101, has reviewed this news release and is responsible for the technical information reported herein. * Mineral resources that are not mineral reserves do not have demonstrated economic viability. ** The PEA is preliminary in nature; it includes inferred mineral resources that are considered too speculative geologically to have the economic considerations applied to them that would enable them to be categorized as mineral reserves. The PEA estimates economic results using a US$1,200/oz gold price, and an NPV 8%. Initial Capital Costs are estimated at US$366 million for a 13-year mine life. For the first 11 years, the annual recovered gold production is approximately 265,000 oz/year. The NPV 8% changes by approximately US$1.1 million per dollar change in gold price; and makes taxation assumptions on the French tax code. ON BEHALF OF THE BOARD, This release contains forward-looking information and statements, as defined by law including without limitation Canadian securities laws and the "safe harbor" provisions of the US Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 ("forward-looking statements"), respecting Columbus: the expected completion of a feasibility study; the expected exploration potential provided by the new exploration permits; the extent of and anticipated timeline to complete an exploration program under the new permits; expected drill targets, depths and testing to be conducted; the estimation of mineral resources; the realization of mineral resource estimates; the realization of the expected economics of the Montagne d'Or deposit; and general exploration plans. Forward-looking statements involve risks, uncertainties and other factors that may cause actual results to be materially different from those expressed or implied by the forward-looking statements, including: the actual results of current and future exploration activities; changes in project parameters and/or economic assessments as plans continue to be refined; future prices of metals; possible variations of mineral grade or rates of recovery; ability to acquire necessary permits and other authorizations; environmental compliance; cost increases; availability of qualified workers and drill equipment; competition for mining properties; risks associated with exploration projects including, without limitation, the accuracy of interpretations; mineral reserve and resource estimates (including the risk of assumption and methodology errors and ability to complete a new resource estimate by the proposed target date or at all); the ability to meet proposed schedules for the completion of metallurgical tests; the ability to complete the feasibility study by the stated deadline or at all; dependence on third parties for services; non-performance by contractual counterparties; title risks; risks associated with Nord Gold S.E. electing not to exercise its option; and general business and economic conditions. Forward-looking statements are based on a number of assumptions that may prove to be incorrect, including without limitation assumptions about the following: that the proposed drilling program will be completed in full and to plan; the assumptions contained in Columbus' Preliminary Economic Assessment are accurate and complete; that the mineral resource update is positive; that the results of the Feasibility Study will be positive; general business and economic conditions; the timing and receipt of required approvals and permits; the availability of financing; power prices; the ability to procure equipment and supplies including, without limitation, drill rigs; and ongoing relations with employees, partners, optionees and joint venturers. The foregoing list is not exhaustive and Columbus undertakes no obligation to update any of the foregoing except as required by law.


News Article | March 1, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

To conduct the analysis, the UFZ researchers used standardised data from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR- PEN project), based on surveys of village communities in 233 representatively selected villages in tropical regions of Africa, Asia and South America between 2005 and 2010. The interviewees were inhabitants from mostly small rural communities who depend in various forms on firewood, timber, food resources, animal feed or medications from nearby forests, mostly on a subsistence basis. Villagers were asked, for example, what natural resources from the forests they used and how their availability had changed in recent years. In 209 of all the analysed communities, or about 90%, interviewees reported that the availability of at least one forest resource had declined. One example is timber for construction purposes. In more than 75% of villages in Africa and South America in which people were interviewed, they reported a decrease in this resource. In Asia the percentage was almost 60%. In around 75% of the villages studied in Africa and more than 50% in Asia, local populations reported declining availability of firewood. In village communities in Asia and Africa, all other forest products such as food, medications and animal feed were also reported to be scarcer. "In some places forest resources are not being used very sustainably," says Dr. Kathleen Hermans, the first author of the study and a social geographer in the UFZ's Department of Landscape Ecology. That this situation was so clearly in evidence was surprising, she adds. However, there are exceptions, especially in South America. Here, interviewees in many communities reported that resources such as firewood, medicinal plants and animal food had somewhat increased or remained stable over the last five years. With the aid of statistical analyses, the researchers were able to demonstrate that excessive consumption of forest products is one of the main reasons why these resources are becoming scarcer. "Usage has increased in many places," says Hermans. This could be due to the fact that in more than 90% of the villages the population has grown over the past decade, partly due to immigration. However, Hermans points out that more detailed analysis would be required at local level to determine whether population growth had actually triggered higher demand for forest products. It would also be interesting to investigate what factors triggered migration to the villages. Another important factor in the depletion of forest products, according to the study, is the clearance carried out by large companies and local populations. By contrast, the ownership situation and the governmental and non-governmental regulations which existed at national, regional or local level did not play a significant role in the decline of forest resources in tropical regions. In 89 of the villages surveyed, inhabitants reported that the availability of at least one forest resource was increasing more than it was decreasing or remaining stable. The researchers ascribe this mainly to changes in management measures, the reduction of logging and reduced utilisation of forest products. They also noted that the greatest increase in forest resources occurs in communities where the population experienced only a slight increase or actually fell. Currently there is little global standardised information from villages on the use of forests because the information is so time-consuming to collect. This is what makes this study so exceptional. However, the CIFOR data is based on surveys of local populations and therefore on their perceptions. "The data doesn't consist of objective measurements, so it isn't free from biased perceptions," says Hermans. She therefore wants to compare the household data with objective data, such as satellite data on forest coverage near the surveyed villages. She also intends to analyse whether there are certain patterns of resource usage and migration in village communities. Hermans will be able to take these research approaches further in a new working group which she leads and which started work at the UFZ at the beginning of January. Under the title "MigSoKo - Human migration and global environmental change: A vicious cycle?", the team is studying the relationships between environmental change, population pressure and migration and their impact on the environment in tropical drylands, taking Ethiopia as an example. The €1.5 million project will last five years and is being funded 50-50 by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research as part of its socio-ecological research programme and by the UFZ.


News Article | December 12, 2016
Site: phys.org

The consequences of climate change are evidenced, inter alia, by changes in biodiversity. A key task of biodiversity research is to record the current situation, study processes within ecosystems and identify possible changes as well as disturbances. "To do this we need reliable data across large areas and close periods of time," says UFZ Landscape Ecologist PD Dr. Angela Lausch. "Various remote sensing methods already meet these requirements in a remarkable way." By using satellite images, the distribution of a plant species to be studied can, for example, be determined based on its growth habit, leaf shape, leaf geometry, phenology or flower colour - over large areas and over time. In addition, satellites are equipped with spectral sensors which help to distinguish and record plant species or plant communities based on their specific biochemical properties (chlorophyll, cellulose, leaf water content or protein content, etc.). Depending on the question being studied, the methods of remote sensing generally vary in their capability to measure biological diversity. When choosing the method, it must always be considered whether the remote sensing sensor can actually measure the selected key parameters - that is, whether the spectral, spatial or temporal resolution is adequate in answering the question and what conclusions can be derived from this for biodiversity research. "Looking ahead, it is therefore essential that biologists, ecologists, geographers and remote sensing specialists cooperate more closely than has previously been the case and become better acquainted with the discourse of others," says UFZ biodiversity researcher Prof. Josef Settele, co-author of the study. The traits of plants, animals, water and soil are what links remote sensing to other disciplines," adds Lausch. The hyperspectral satellite EnMAP (Environmental Mapping and Analysis Program) is due to be launched in 2018 and will provide image data with very high spectral resolution. Hyperspectral remote sensing could then be used to measure many more biochemical parameters, such as nitrogen, phosphate or the water content in leaf tissue. "EnMAP will significantly improve the identification of species and plant communities via remote sensing. However, the greatest potential offered by hyperspectral remote sensing lies in measuring processes and disturbances within ecosystems over large areas," says Lausch. "The data produced by the EnMAP satellite will be freely available to all users. We, in biodiversity research, should therefore be prepared to recognise and leverage the potential of the new generation of satellites." However, we will still need field studies, where samples are collected, species and plant communities recorded and ecosystem processes - such as photosynthesis activity or the ability to bind carbon - are identified. Unlike remote sensing, they only represent a local and temporary sample and are also time-consuming, costly and usually tedious to evaluate. However, they provide crucial information that cannot be recorded via remote sensing - such as information on ecological potency, stress behaviour and the adaptability of species and plant communities. In addition, they are indispensable for evaluating and interpreting remote sensing data. "One is not possible without the other," says Lausch. "Biodiversity can only be measured more accurately than before and processes, including their changes and disturbances, mapped on various spatial and temporal scales by combining in-situ studies and remote sensing." However, in terms of practical implementation, there are still a few stumbling blocks, says Lausch. A typical stumbling block is the fact that worldwide there are still very few uniform standards dedicated to measuring biodiversity data. In addition, the link between field and remote sensing data must be optimised so that it is easier to aggregate large, complex and heterogeneous data volumes and data can be more easily evaluated and transferred to models. A key step in this direction is the so-called "Essential Biodiversity Variables" (EBV), the development of which has been possible due to the efforts of scientists such as Angela Lausch and many of her co-authors worldwide. Explore further: Potential of satellite remote sensing to monitor species diversity More information: A. Lausch et al, Linking Earth Observation and taxonomic, structural and functional biodiversity: Local to ecosystem perspectives, Ecological Indicators (2016). DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolind.2016.06.022


News Article | February 27, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

The European Water Framework Directive has been in force since 2000. Its purpose is to ensure that rivers, lakes, coastal waters and groundwater achieve a 'good status' by 2027. This means that bodies of water should contain only minimal pollutants and should provide a near-natural habitat for plants and animals. Crucially, the European Water Framework Directive looks at bodies of water without regard to international borders -- in the case of rivers, from source to estuary. "This is globally unique in this form. It's the reason why many countries regard the European Water Framework Directive as an ideal model," says environmental chemist Dr. Werner Brack from the UFZ. However, Europe still has a long way to go to achieve its goal. In many places there is a need to implement concrete measures to improve the water body structure, restore the continuity of surface water and reduce contamination with nutrients and pollutants with much more consistency than has been the case so far. "But the directive itself also has shortcomings, which is why it needs to be revised by 2019," says Werner Brack. Under his leadership, scientists from the European research project SOLUTIONS and the European research network NORMAN have carefully examined these shortcomings and come up with recommendations for improved pollutant monitoring and water management. The Water Framework Directive currently lists 45 pollutants referred to as priority substances. To have good water quality, a body of water is only allowed to contain small amounts of these substances. However, there are also more than 100 000 different chemical substances which we use every day and which end up in our environment and our water. So, most of these are not included in the assessment of water quality under the current EU Water Framework Directive. "Monitoring based on individual substances is expensive, ignores the majority of substances and fails to address the actual problems. Most of the priority substances were already removed from the market and replaced with other chemical substances with often very similar effects. Adding new substances to the list is a cumbersome political process," says Brack. Furthermore, the Water Framework Directive has so far been limited to the testing of individual substances. However, pollutants don't affect the environment individually, but exhibit higher toxicity together than the single compounds do individually.. "It's not the presence of a polluting substance that's crucial but its effect in a body of water," explains Brack. The researchers therefore recommend that, where possible, the monitoring of water quality should be switched from the chemical analysis of individual substances to effect-based methods such as biological effect tests. This would mean that all substances with the same effect would be recorded, including mixed substances. Expensive chemical analysis would only be necessary where certain effect thresholds were exceeded. The team of researchers also sees a need to change the way water quality is assessed. According to the Water Framework Directive it is always the worst component that determines whether a body of water is classified as having a good chemical or ecological status -- even when this component is impossible to influence through water management measures, as is the case with pollutants from incineration processes. This appears very protective but has the result that many bodies of water cannot achieve management targets even if significant improvements are made to key components. Brack notes: "The current rules provide too few incentives to solve problems and in many cases result in inaction. We are therefore proposing that measures to improve water quality should be rewarded through a more sophisticated system of assessment." This includes the creation of incentives for good monitoring. Currently, many member states fail to regularly measure and analyse pollutants which should in fact be monitored by law. And they are actually rewarded for this because the less they measure, the less often they measure and the poorer the analysis, the lower the identified risk and thus the need for reduction measures. For the new Water Framework Directive, the researchers are therefore proposing a reversed burden of proof. In areas where no data is collected due to inadequate monitoring, model values could be used for water body assessment. Countries which failed to supply data on time would then have to prove with measurements that the actual status was better than predicted levels. Simply measuring and assessing water quality is however not enough to improve the status of a body of water - monitoring must be followed up with appropriate measures. "In our recent study, we provide recommendations for a more solution-focused approach to water management in which monitoring, assessment and potential measures should be much more closely linked from the outset than is currently the case," says Brack. For example, sewage treatment processes are an important and relatively predictable source of pollution in streams and rivers which can cause effect thresholds to be exceeded. The authors suggest that, as a first step, it should be established to what extent the measured polluting effect of river water correlates with expectations based on the proportion of sewage and degree of cleaning. Improved wastewater treatment in the sewage plant would then be the best means of achieving quality targets. If the observed polluting effect is higher than expected, the authors recommend various approaches to identify specific pollutants and their sources and if possible eliminate them before they reach the sewage plant. The emphasis should be on examining possible alternatives for quality improvement rather than persisting with the definition of water body status. "This also helps us to find solutions that address several problems at once," says Brack. "For example, sufficiently wide marginal areas planted with bushes not only contribute to reducing the ingress of pesticides in bodies of water, but also help to prevent over-fertilisation and raised temperatures in the water. On top of that, they also provide a valuable habitat for many animals and plants." As studies in the EU project SOLUTIONS have shown, the improvement of water quality in some cases also requires the harmonisation of the many environmental quality and chemical safety regulations at European and national level with the Water Framework Directive. The researchers hope that the results from SOLUTIONS and NORMAN will help to provide additional approaches for the revision of the European Water Framework Directive - and therefore pave the way to more sustainable water usage in Europe. The EU project SOLUTIONS brings together 39 partners from 17 countries worldwide. It is receiving €12 million in funding from the European Union until 2018. Its aim is to develop tools and models to assess the risk of the cocktail of chemicals in European water bodies. SOLUTIONS develops methods to detect substances requiring priority treatment and proposes solutions for their reduction. The European research network NORMAN promotes cooperation and information-sharing among teams of researchers in various countries in relation to the monitoring of previously unregulated substances in the environment.

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