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Keywords:

  • development time;
  • insect herbivore;
  • maternal effects;
  • oak;
  • phenology;
  • seasonal timing;
  • winter moth

Summary

  1. Top of page
  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. Materials and methods
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. Acknowledgements
  8. References
  9. Supporting Information

1. Maternal effects may play an important role in shaping the life history of organisms. Using an insect herbivore, the winter moth (Operophtera brumata) feeding on oak (Quercus robur), we show that maternal effects can affect seasonal timing of egg hatching in an herbivore in an adaptive way.

2. Winter moth egg-hatching needs to coincide with oak bud opening, as only freshly emerged leaves are suitable as food for the caterpillars. However, there is spatial variation in the timing of bud opening among oaks to which the winter moth needs to adapt.

3. We show experimentally that the generation time between the mother’s and her offsprings’ hatching dates was shorter for mothers who hatched late relative to bud opening of the tree they had to feed on (and hence had to feed on older leaves) than for mothers’ who hatched on time. Maternal feeding conditions affected both the larval and the pupal development time of the mother as well as the egg development time of her offspring: at all three stages developmental time was shorter for the mistimed treatment.

4. We thus show that adaptation to spatial variation may be achieved via maternal effects. While this is a mechanism selected to adapt to spatial variation, it may now also play a role in adaptation to climate change induced shifts in host phenology, and allow insect herbivores to adapt to changes in the seasonal timing of their food availability without the need for genetic change.


Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. Materials and methods
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. Acknowledgements
  8. References
  9. Supporting Information

In their heterogeneous world organisms need to cope with spatial and temporal variation in environmental conditions. For insect herbivores these conditions are determined by the different plant species they feed on, as these are usually only present or suitable as food during a restricted period of the year. Development outside this period has severe fitness consequences in winter moths (Van Asch & Visser 2007), as hatching of caterpillars too early leads to a period of starvation and hatching too late leads to feeding on less suitable leaves. The latter leads to pupation at a low weight, which has a negative effect on fecundity. Fitness consequences of asynchrony are thus severe; in winter moths even a 5-day difference in hatching time will lead to a 90% drop in survival (e.g. Van Asch et al. 2007).

The optimal period for egg hatching may differ between years, as environmental conditions vary from year to year, affecting the development of the vegetation. In addition to this temporal variation, there is quite often also considerable spatial variation. In deciduous tree species, individual trees can differ considerably in the timing of bud opening in spring. These differences are predictable, as individual trees are consistently early or late in developing (Crawley & Akhteruzzaman 1988). Insect herbivores may deal with this environmental variation in two ways.

First, insects may adapt locally to their host plant, a process called adaptive deme formation (Van Zandt & Mopper 1998). In order for this to occur, there must be sufficient genetic variation in herbivore phenology, and selection must be strong enough to counteract the effects of gene flow, resulting from dispersal between populations on individual host plants. Alternatively, organisms may only vary in their phenotype in response to environmental conditions. In other words, insects may be phenotypically plastic, expressing different phenotypes under different environmental conditions. Such phenotypic plasticity may be adaptive, enabling animals to perform better in spatial or temporal variable environments (Falconer & Mackay 1996). Responses to environmental conditions can change (genetically) under selection, for instance in changing environments (Visser 2008). Examples include mosquitoes (Bradshaw & Holzapfel 2001) and several bird species (Pulido & Berthold 2004).

When insects are phenotypically plastic, this implies that they respond during development to environmental cues affecting their phenotype. Such cues should be those environmental variables that best predict the environmental conditions the individual will encounter during its life. These can be variables experienced during their own development, but sometimes environmental variables experienced by the parents (most commonly the mother) give a better prediction of the best phenotype of their offspring. In such cases, maternal effects may play a role: genetic or environmental differences in the maternal generation affect the phenotype of the offspring. Maternal effects are thus a special form of phenotypic plasticity acting across generations (Mousseau & Dingle 1991). Maternal effects are increasingly recognized for their role in adaptation to variable environments (Mousseau & Fox 1998). Known maternal effects include the number and size of offspring (Mousseau & Fox 1998) and the amount of resources invested by the parents (Rossiter 1996). Other examples include the determination of development time in birds via yolk hormones (Gorman & Williams 2005), diapause in insects (Mousseau & Dingle 1991), germination time (Etterson & Galloway 2002) and dormancy in plants (Roach & Wulff 1987). Maternal effects may either decrease or increase the rate of response to selection and thus accelerate or slow down evolutionary change (Kirkpatrick & Lande 1989).

To find out whether maternal effects play a role in the maintenance of synchrony between insect and host plant phenology we studied maternal effects on offspring phenology in the winter moth (Operophtera brumata) feeding on oak (Quercus robur) leaves (Fig. 1).

image

Figure 1.  Larvae of the winter moth (Operophtera brumata).

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As only young oak leaves are suitable for feeding (Feeny 1970; Wint 1983; Tikkanen & Julkunen-Tiitto 2003), eggs need to hatch within a few days of bud opening on the host tree. There can be large differences (up to 3 weeks) in the timing of bud opening between individual oak trees and there is some evidence of local (phenotypic) adaptation to individual host trees (Van Dongen et al. 1997). One of the conditions for local adaptation is limited dispersal. As winter moth females are wingless, females usually lay eggs on the tree on which they developed, and thus feeding conditions of the mother are a better predictor of feeding conditions for her offspring than are those of the father, one of the prerequisites for adaptive maternal effects to occur (Donohue 1999; Galloway 2005). In winter moths, maternal effects can therefore potentially play a major role in achieving synchrony with the host tree.

There are two ways in which the timing of the mother can influence the timing of her offspring. The first is through a direct effect of feeding conditions on the larval development time of the mother. If the other life stages are unaffected by leaf age (pupal time of the mother, and egg development time of her offspring) this would then indirectly lead to an effect on egg hatching time of her offspring. Leaf age does indeed affect larval development time (Tikkanen & Lyytikainen-Saarenmaa 2002) as well as growth rate (e.g. Feeny 1968). In addition, there should also be a fixed period between pupation and eclosion of the adults, and between egg laying and egg hatching. There is evidence for the latter; egg laying date and egg hatching date are correlated in the winter moth (M. van Asch, unpublished data). Although the relation between pupation and adult eclosion could be disrupted by pupal diapause, it has now been shown that pupal diapause does not exist in the winter moth (Peterson & Nilssen 1998 and references therein). Secondly, feeding conditions of the mother may have an effect directly on the eggs themselves, leading to differences in the development time of her offspring. This can happen, for instance, if a mother can change the amount of resources she puts into her eggs, depending on her own feeding conditions.

Feeding conditions change over time as water and nitrogen content of leaves decrease and leaf toughness and phenolic compounds increase seasonally. Winter moths pupate at a lower weight when they feed on older leaves with a higher condensed tannin concentration (Feeny 1968; Tikkanen & Julkunen-Tiitto 2003). Tannins have also an effect in the following generation: sons of gypsy moths (Lymantria dispar) reared on red oak (Quercus rubra) had a lower pupal weight if their mothers fed on leaves with high condensed tannin concentration (Rossiter 1991a), while daughters had a shorter pre-feeding period (associated with dispersal tendency). Thus, phenolic compounds not only have a direct effect on the mothers, but also a maternal effect on the offspring.

The aim of this study was to determine whether timing of egg hatch (and thus feeding conditions) of the mother can affect the timing of egg hatch in the next generation by either an effect on larval or pupal development time of the parental generation, or a direct maternal effect on egg developmental time. We fed the parental generation differently aged leaves, and then measured larval and pupal development time of the parents, and egg development time of the offspring.

Materials and methods

  1. Top of page
  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. Materials and methods
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. Acknowledgements
  8. References
  9. Supporting Information

We fed caterpillars on leaves of different ages. We did this by manipulating egg-hatching date, and then feeding caterpillars that thus hatched at different times, on leaves of the same tree, thereby experimentally creating groups of caterpillars (the mothers) that experienced a different timing relative to oak bud opening. Both their own development time and the egg development time of their offspring were then determined (see Fig. 2 for a schematic overview of the experimental set-up).

image

Figure 2.  Schematic overview of the experimental set-up. We collected 74 grandmaternal winter moths from the wild and experimentally manipulated (using a temperature treatment) the hatching date of their eggs. The newly hatched larvae were reared on leaves of either 0 or 5 days old from either tree A or B (the set of larvae reared on leaves of 0 days on tree A are coded A0, etc.). The duration of the larval (L) and pupal (P) developmental stage of these larvae were recorded, as well as the duration of the egg stage (E) of their offspring (with D50 the date at which 50% of the eggs had hatched). The period between adult eclosure and egg laying is only a few days and hence not considered here.

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Origin of winter moths

In order to feed caterpillars differently aged leaves, we needed to create differences in egg hatch in the maternal generation. To achieve this, we caught 74 female winter moths (the ‘grandmaternal’ generation) on oak trees (Quercus robur) using insect traps (funnel traps attached to the tree, catching females as they walk up the tree) prior to the experiment (November 2002). Females were caught at seven different locations, to the west of Arnhem (05°48′E, 51°59′N), the Netherlands. These females were used to produce the parental generation. To create differences in the timing of egg hatch, eggs from each female were divided across three different temperature treatments, mimicking either a cold, a normal or a warm year based on actual recorded ambient temperatures (Visser & Holleman 2001; see Appendix S1 for a full description). This ensured that each group of caterpillars had a similar genetic composition, and differences in egg hatch between groups were due to experimental manipulation rather than natural variation in egg hatch date.

At the start of the rearing experiment 60–65% of the eggs had hatched within each treatment. We used only broods with a known median egg hatch date at the start of the rearing experiment, to prevent the inclusion of (naturally) early or late hatching caterpillars. One day before the experiment started all previously hatched caterpillars were removed, so that caterpillars used in the experiment were maximally 18 h old when the experiment started. This setup enabled us to use newly hatched caterpillars from the same females at different times, i.e. with leaves of a different age in the rearing experiment. There was a 5-day difference in egg hatching between each of the different temperature treatments; this means that there were 5-day intervals between start of feeding (and thus leaf age) in the experiment.

Design of the rearing experiment

Caterpillars fed on leaves of two different ages (see Fig. 2). After the eggs had hatched, one group of caterpillars was fed on young, new oak leaves (leaf age 0 days). Another group of caterpillars hatched 5 days later, and consequently started feeding on older oak leaves (leaf age 5 days). The whole setup was replicated using two different trees (tree A and tree B): young leaves from tree A (A0, 306 caterpillars hatched on 23 April), 5-day-old leaves from tree A (A5, 85 caterpillars hatches on 28 April) and similar B0 (166 caterpillars hatched on 28 April) and B5 (161 caterpillars hatched on 3 May). As trees A and B differed in their bud opening by 5 days (tree A on 23 April and tree B on 28 April), the B0 caterpillars hatched at the same time as the A5 caterpillars. Both trees were growing at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology in Heteren, the Netherlands (51°57′N, 5°45′E), and were approximately 15 years old.

Originally, the design of the experiment included the effect of starvation (i.e. caterpillars that had hatched 5 days before the oak buds opened). Few of these females survived (A−5 0 females out of 438 caterpillars and B−5 3 females out of 205 caterpillars) and they are not considered further here.

Rearing of the maternal generation

Caterpillars were reared individually in glass vials and during rearing they were fed on progressively maturing leaves. The vials were kept in a half-open shed, so that rearing temperature was similar to the outside temperature experienced by the trees. Leaves were replaced with freshly collected new leaves three times a week. Vials were checked daily for pupating caterpillars. After pupation, pupae were weighed and transferred to plastic vials containing moistened vermiculite. The vials were stored in a climate chamber (SANYO Incubator MIR-553; Sanyo Benelux, Lier, Belgium) at a constant temperature of 12 °C until emergence of the adult moths.

Adult emergence and offspring development

In November, vials were checked daily for emerging adults. After emergence females were immediately mated individually with a male whose mother originated from the same location, and who was fed leaves from the same tree as a caterpillar. Females were never mated with their brothers. Emerging males were kept at 6 °C until used for mating. Females were provided with a roll of tissue paper on which to lay their eggs, which were then kept in the half-open shed. The following spring, egg hatch was scored every 2 days and median egg hatching date was determined for each female.

Analysis of maternal effect on developmental times

Development time is expressed in degree-days (calculated by the summing of the mean temperatures per day, above the threshold value of 3·9 °C below which there is assumed to be no development). For this, we measured temperature every 15 min using a Onset HOBO – U12 temperature data logger (±0·4 °C), and we used the hourly average temperature to first calculate the number of degree-hours and, next, sum them to calculate the number of degree-days. Degree-days (with a threshold value of 3·9 °C) can describe winter moth egg hatch well (Embree 1970; Visser & Holleman 2001). Larval development time can also be described using degree-days (Topp & Kirsten 1991; Tikkanen & Julkunen-Tiitto 2003).

Development time of the larval (L) and pupal (P) stage of the parents and development time of the egg (E) stage of the offspring were analysed (see Fig. 2). All analyses were done using linear mixed models (SAS v8; SAS Institute Inc., Cary, NC, USA), with leaf age and tree as fixed effects and grandmother identity as random effect. In the analysis on pupal development time, the sex and the weight of the resulting adult were included as fixed effects.

Analyses of larval and pupal development time were done using all available individuals. Those females that survived and reproduced, may form a non-random subset of the total number of individuals we started with, since only half of the pupae produced adults (150/377), and half of these were males. However, larval development times did not differ between surviving and non-surviving individuals, and analysing the results of larval and pupal development time only for those females that survived and reproduced gave the same results. We therefore show only the results of the full data set here.

Age, toughness and chemical composition of the leaves

Leaf characteristics change as the leaves mature. Moreover, leaf characteristics can vary between trees. In order to follow the maturing process of the leaves we fed the parental generation on, and to check for differences between our replicates, we determined chemical composition of the leaves. Chemical composition (phenolics) was determined using HPLC (Julkunen-Tiitto & Sorsa 2001) in the Natural Product Research Laboratory, University of Joensuu, Finland. We thus identified 14 different compounds in the leaves, only one of which showed a consistent increase over time: (+)-catechin. We also determined condensed tannins using an acid butanol assay (Porter, Hrstich & Chan, 1985). Chemical composition was determined for three leaf ages: during the first week, after 2 and after 4 weeks (HPLC), and after 2, 3 and 4 weeks (condensed tannins). Two samples were analysed per tree and per leaf age, each consisting of 10 dried and ground leaves. Leaves were collected in liquid nitrogen and stored at −80 °C until they could be freeze-dried, ground and analysed.

Results

  1. Top of page
  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. Materials and methods
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. Acknowledgements
  8. References
  9. Supporting Information

Effect of leaf age on development time

Leaf age had a clear effect on the larval development time of the parental generation (F1,317 = 56·13, P = <0·0001; Fig. 3). Caterpillars fed on older leaves pupated 21 degree days earlier than caterpillars fed on young oak leaves and also pupal development time was shorter for caterpillars that fed on older leaves (F1,143 = 8·45, = 0·004), depending on the tree 15–74 degree days. In addition, for the pupal stage males had a shorter development time than females (F1,141 = 8·51, = 0·004), and lighter females have a longer development time than heavier females (F1,128 = 6·86, = 0·01). The latter effect weakens the overall effect of leaf age as the females fed older leaves were lighter than females that were timed with the phenology of the leaves (F1,146 = 85·9, P<0·0001). Leaf age also had an effect on egg development time of the offspring (F1,64·8 = 18·01, P<0·0001; Fig. 3). Eggs from mothers fed on older leaves had a shorter development time [307·0 (SE = 4·8) degree days] than eggs from mothers fed on younger leaves [329·1 (SE = 3·9) degree days]. See Table S1 for the full statistical model.

image

Figure 3.  Winter moth development times (SE) on differently aged oak leaves. Mean duration (in degree days) of larval (L), pupal (P) and their offspring’s egg (E) stages for larvae fed on leaves of two different ages (0 days: just opened buds, 5 days: 5-day-old leaves at egg hatching). Numbers just above the x-axis represent sample sizes. Note the differences in the scale on the y-axis.

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Effect of tree on development time

Development time also differed between trees (F1,273 = 11·99, = 0·0006): caterpillars fed on leaves from tree B pupated 9·3 degree days later than caterpillars fed on leaves from tree A even if they were fed on leaves of the same age. Adults were also heavier when fed on leaves from tree B than on leaves from tree A (F1,146 = 27·22, P<0·0001).

Age, toughness and chemical composition of the leaves

As leaves get older, their toughness increases (Feeny 1970; M van Asch, unpubl. data). The chemical composition of the leaves also changes as the leaves become older. The only compounds to show a consistent increase over time were (+)-catechin and condensed tannins. (+)-catechin was absent until the leaves were at least 2 weeks old, and was present in much larger quantities in 4-week-old leaves. Four-week-old leaves from tree A contained significantly more (+)-catechin, than leaves from tree B [tree A 3·1 (±0·3) mg g−1 and tree B 0·6 (±0·2) mg g−1; F1,3 = 31·2, = 0·03]. (+)-catechin is a precursor to condensed tannins, which were only present in 4-week-old leaves [tree A 1·9 (±0·2) mg g−1 and tree B 1·4 (±0·4) mg g−1].

Discussion

  1. Top of page
  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. Materials and methods
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. Acknowledgements
  8. References
  9. Supporting Information

Synchrony of insect herbivores with the host tree can be maintained through genetic adaptation, and phenology of many insect species, including winter moths (Van Asch et al. 2007; Van Asch 2007), is known to be heritable. We show here that maternal effects can serve as an additional, non-genetic mechanism to become adapted to the phenology of a host tree, as environmental conditions had a clear effect on larval and pupal development time (in degree days) of winter moth larvae, and thereby on the time until egg hatching of their offspring. This is in contrast to what has been found in other studies (Holton, Lindroth & Nordheim 2003; Knepp et al. 2007) where lower food quality overall leads to increased larval developmental time. However, food quality of young oak leaves is very high. After several weeks the quality of the leaves deteriorates quickly [when the (+)-catechin and condensed tannins concentrations increase]. However, our finding is similar to results previously reported (e.g. Feeny 1968), that it is this deterioration in food quality which determines when the larvae will pupate. Larvae that start feeding on older leaves will have a shorter time until the leaves become inedible, and thus pupate earlier and with a lower pupation weight.

Maybe even more interesting than the direct effect via development time of the mother is the indirect effect of leaf age on development time of her eggs: feeding on older leaves shortened the development time of the eggs. In order to achieve this, there must be something different in the eggs. The mother may vary the amount or the composition of the nutrients she provides the eggs with. In general, larger eggs contain more nutrients. Indeed, it has been shown in gypsy moths that a larger egg size results in faster development time of both eggs and caterpillars (Rossiter 1991b) and that feeding conditions of the mother affect the amount of storage protein in eggs (Rossiter, Coxfoster & Briggs 1993). It seems likely that the observed effect works via the amount of nutrients supplied to the eggs by the mother. Feeding on older leaves reduces the pupation weight, and thereby the number of eggs a female lays. Generally, this is assumed to be so because females do not have enough resources to lay more eggs. It may, however, also be that those resources they do have are put into fewer eggs, thereby increasing the development rate. It was however not possible to weigh the winter moth eggs without damaging them (as they need to be separated from the paper on which they are laid by the female) so we have no data to test this hypothesis.

The faster development of eggs produced by mistimed mothers may serve to improve synchrony with bud opening for the next generation, as a shorter generation time for late-hatching parents has as a consequence that their offspring will be relatively earlier timed than their parents. Selection also acts on this, since feeding on older leaves reduces pupation weight (Feeny 1970; Tikkanen & Julkunen-Tiitto 2003). In the winter moth-oak system a difference of 5 days reduces pupation weight by a third (Van Asch et al. 2007), and in this experiment females feeding on older leaves were significantly lighter and consequently had 30% less offspring. However, their offspring that do survive will be better synchronized.

For the winter moths, maternal effects can thus play a role in adapting to tree phenology but this only works when the caterpillars hatch too late, i.e. when feeding on old leaves. Winter moths have a relatively low resistance to starvation, so when they are too early, i.e. hatch before bud opening, selection is so strong that hardly any females survive to reproduce in the treatment where the eggs hatched 5 days prior to bud opening. Larvae that do manage to survive a short period of starvation have a longer development time than non starved ones (Wint 1983). Due to the strong selection, maternal effects are unlikely to be involved with improving synchrony when hatching too early, and any adaptation will be through genetic change (Van Asch 2007). Development can start only after food becomes available, and this, possibly in combination with an increase in development time, leads to the same or a later pupation date in early hatching, starved larvae than in non-starved ones, resulting in later hatching eggs in the next generation.

Larvae that fed at the same time, but on trees with a different phenology, experienced exactly the same environmental conditions and still differed in development time. However, trees differed in their defensive compounds prior to pupation. Four-week-old leaves from tree A contained more (+)-catechin, a pre-cursor for tannin, than leaves from tree B and this may well explain the earlier pupation of larvae, and their lighter adult weight, when fed on leaves from tree A, in accordance with the findings of Feeny (1968). This again points in the direction of leaf age as the causal factor.

Maternal effects can act as a mechanism to maintain or improve synchrony with the host plant. Although feeding on older leaves led to a decrease in total generation time of only 5–10 days (at the temperatures used in this experiment), this is similar to the difference we started with. A 5-day difference is biologically a very realistic time scale, as this kind of difference in egg hatching can quite easily occur. Moreover, a difference of only a couple of days in leaf age has already marked fitness consequences, such as decreased pupation weight (Tikkanen & Julkunen-Tiitto 2003; Van Asch et al. 2007; e.g. Wint 1983).

Maternal effects are thought to evolve when the conditions of the mother are a reliable predictor of the conditions her offspring will encounter. In species like the winter moth offspring are more likely to develop on the same tree as the mother than on the tree the father developed on, since females are wingless and thus cannot disperse far. However, if a female does lay her eggs on another nearby tree with a different phenology, then her offspring will end up on a tree whose phenology does not match with their own. Maternal effect may then serve to restore the synchrony in the next generation. Maternal effects serve primarily to deal with spatial variation, as this is highly consistent over time and thus very predictable. However, under changing environmental conditions synchrony with the host plant can become disrupted (Bale et al. 2002; Stenseth & Mysterud 2002; Visser & Both 2005; Van Asch et al. 2007). Maternal effects could then provide an alternative mechanism to restore synchronization with the host plant. If the interaction is disrupted such that caterpillars hatch too late relative to their host plants and thus have to feed on older, lower quality food, their offspring will develop faster and hence maternal effects can serve as an additional mechanism to adapt to a changing world (Visser 2008).

Acknowledgements

  1. Top of page
  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. Materials and methods
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. Acknowledgements
  8. References
  9. Supporting Information

We like to thank Kate Lessells, Erik Postma and three anonymous referees for helpful comments on the manuscript, and the people from Natural Product Research Laboratory, University of Joensuu for practical assistance with the HPLC-analyses. Baroness Van Boetzelaer Van Oosterhout, ‘Stichting Het Gelders Landschap’, ‘Stichting Het Utrechts Landschap’, the State Forestry Service, the City Council of Renkum, ‘Natuurmonumenten’ and the board of ‘Nationaal Park de Hoge Veluwe’ kindly gave permission to work in their woodlands. The Life Sciences Foundation (ALW grant 812.04.009) supported this research.

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  1. Top of page
  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. Materials and methods
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. Acknowledgements
  8. References
  9. Supporting Information
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Supporting Information

  1. Top of page
  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. Materials and methods
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. Acknowledgements
  8. References
  9. Supporting Information

Appendix S1. Description of the temperature treatments prior to start of the experiment.

Table S1. Statistical table of the analysis on the duration of three stages of development.

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