News

Dr Gabriel Jamie gives a talk on mimicry in parasitic finches at the African BirdFair

Dr Gabriel Jamie gives a talk on mimicry in parasitic finches at the African BirdFair

Dr Gabriel Jamie gave a talk on mimicry in the parasitic finches of Africa at Birdlife South Africa’s Virtual African Birdfair. Please also see Dr Jessica van der Wal’s talk on our sister research project on honeyguide-human mutualism (more information at www.AfricanHoneyguides.com) and many other great research talks by our colleagues at the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology. Also visit the amazing line-up of other talks at the Virtual African BirdFair, including a talk on bird art by the brilliant Faansie Peacock who has generously allowed us to use his illustrations in several of our scientific publications. Thank you BirdLife South Africa!

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Mairenn Attwood submits her MPhil thesis

Mairenn Attwood submits her MPhil thesis

Congratulations to Mairenn Attwood for successfully submitting her MPhil thesis at the University of Cambridge, entitled ‘Angry birds: does it pay a cuckoo to parasitise a highly aggressive host?’. In it, Mairenn asks whether high levels of aggression by fork-tailed drongos affect hawk mimicry by the African cuckoo, and whether it pays cuckoos to specialise on such aggressive hosts. An amazing feat of field experimental work in Zambia (in collaboration with Jess Lund), analysis and writing in just one year of research – well done Mairenn!

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Front cover of Trends in Ecology and Evolution

Front cover of Trends in Ecology and Evolution

Dr Gabriel Jamie and Dr Joana Meier’s paper on the persistence of polymorphisms across species radiations is on the front cover of the September issue of Trends in Ecology and Evolution. The cover image provides a specific example of the trans-species polymorphisms that the paper explores. Here, a polymorphism in shell chirality that recurs across multiple species of Amphidromus snails . Photos by Menno & Jan Schilthuizen. You can read the full article here: https://tinyurl.com/ycgdw4lu

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New paper on host-specific mimicry by indigobird and whydah chicks

New paper on host-specific mimicry by indigobird and whydah chicks

In a new paper published in Evolution, Dr Gabriel Jamie along with Silky Hamama, Collins Moya and Prof. Claire Spottiswoode from the African Cuckoos team and collaborators from University of Puerto Rico (Steven Van Belleghem), Princeton University (Dr Cassie Stoddard and Dr Ben Hogan) and University of Cambridge (Professor Rebecca Kilner) provide evidence of host-specific mimicry in the indigobirds and whydahs of Africa. Building on the pioneering work of Robert Payne and Jürgen Nicolai, they provide quantitative evidence that nestling Vidua finches mimic the patterns, colours and begging calls of their host’s nestling, and qualitative evidence of mimicry of host movements.

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Pick of the month in Trends in Ecology and Evolution

Pick of the month in Trends in Ecology and Evolution

Dr Gabriel Jamie and Dr Joana Meier’s paper “The Persistence of Polymorphisms across Species Radiations” has been selected by Trends in Ecology and Evolution as the journal Editor’s pick of the month. Read the full paper here: https://tinyurl.com/y29l4ygr

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Launching Honeyguiding.me for all bird enthusiasts in Africa!

Launching Honeyguiding.me for all bird enthusiasts in Africa!

Honeyguiding.me is a citizen science project for which we welcome all records of Greater Honeyguides anywhere in Africa. Visit our Honeyguiding.me project site in English, en français & em Português!
Please also follow the Honeyguide Research Project on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram @honeyguiding.

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AfricanHoneyguides – sister research project website now live

AfricanHoneyguides – sister research project website now live

Now live: a new website for our sister project at AfricanHoneyguides, sharing our research on the remarkable cooperative relationship between Greater Honeyguides and human honey-hunters (for information on the darker side of Greater Honeyguides, as brood parasites of other birds, see the Honeyguides page on this website).
A big thank you to Hennie Botha of Dumel Web Design, South Africa, for his beautiful design of both the AfricanHoneyguides and AfricanCuckoos websites.

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New review paper on polymorphisms and speciation

New review paper on polymorphisms and speciation

In a new paper in Trends in Ecology and Evolution, Dr Gabriel Jamie and Dr Joana Meier explore the phenomenon that the same polymorphisms often recur in many members of a species radiation (e.g. colour/pattern morphs, heterostyly, mating types, shell chirality). This phenomenon is puzzling because...

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Congratulations Jess and Mairenn

Two of our team currently undertaking MSc research on interactions between African Cuckoos and their Fork-tailed Drongo hosts in Zambia have just been awarded PhD studentships to carry out their PhDs at the University of Cambridge – congratulations Mairenn Attwood and Jess Lund! And huge thanks to...

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A truncated but successful rainy season, including filming of indigobirds and whydahs for upcoming documentary

A truncated but successful rainy season, including filming of indigobirds and whydahs for upcoming documentary

Despite being truncated by the pandemic, Gabriel Jamie, Tanmay Dixit and Stephanie McClelland spent very successful couple of months in Zambia. A lot of nests were found, many by Sylvester Munkonko, Oliver Kashembe and Oscar Siankwasya, above, allowing Tanmay and Steph to collect very useful data. Gabriel successfully collected genetic samples that will be used to construct the reference genome of the Tawny-flanked Prinia. Gabriel also acted as scientific consultant for a BBC film crew making a documentary on the amazing indigobirds and whydahs at the field site. The crew were successfully able to get the desired footage and are hoping the film will come out in 2021. Watch this space!

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Luke hands in his PhD

Luke hands in his PhD

Congratulations to Luke McClean on submitting his PhD thesis at the University of Cape Town, entitled ‘Coevolution between brood-parasitic honeyguides and their hosts’, based on four years of fieldwork in Zambia from 2015 to 2018 – here he is setting up a nest camera in the field together with...

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A successful dry season of cuckoos

A successful dry season of cuckoos

The end of another productive field season! Mairenn Attwood and Jess Lund spent the past three months conducting experiments investigating how fork-tailed drongos defend themselves against parasitism by African cuckoos. Mairenn focused on drongo aggression as a defence, while Jess looked at their...

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EBird Big Day

As fieldwork overlapped with October Big Day, four of us – Collins, Silky, Mairenn and Jess – joined forces with other birders from Choma to record bird species in the area. Organised by the Cornell Lab, the day sees people around the world contribute to one global bird list. Just a few of over...

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Visiting Copperbelt University

Visiting Copperbelt University

Gabriel Jamie had an excellent visit to our collaborators Dr Moses Chibesa, Dr Ngawo Namukonde and Stanford Siachoono at Copperbelt University in Kitwe. Gabriel met with researchers and students in the Department of Zoology and Aquatic Sciences in the School of Natural Resources to discuss future...

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Welcome to Mairenn Attwood

Welcome to Mairenn Attwood

We are delighted to welcome Mairenn Attwood to our team, as she commences an MPhil at the University of Cambridge. Mairenn will be studying the curious resemblance of African cuckoos to Accipiter hawks, by presenting models at the nests of Fork-tailed drongos.

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Willow warblers and blood parasitism

Marjorie Sorensen and her international team of collaborators have just published a paper in Ecology and Evolution asking whether longer bird migrations are associated with increased blood parasitism, by exposing birds to a greater variety of parasites. Marjorie and team used stable isotopes to...

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Research team meet up in Cape Town

Research team meet up in Cape Town

Members of the research team from the University of Cambridge and the University of Cape Town meet up in Cape Town for an intense few days of planning our next research steps, accompanied by plenty of winter birdwatching and botanising. Here Jess, Tanmay, Luke, Claire and Mairenn attempt (with the...

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Another successful field season in the Zambian rainy season

Another successful field season in the Zambian rainy season

A successful season of fieldwork has seen the collection of more genetic samples from Tawny-flanked prinias by Gabriel Jamie, as well as egg rejection experiments conducted by Tanmay Dixit. Jess Lund continued experiments on the colouration of Cuckoo finch chicks, started in 2018 by Jana Riederer....

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Welcome to Jess Lund

Welcome to Jess Lund

Jess Lund has joined the team as an MSc student at the University of Cape Town. She is currently assisting with several projects in Zambia this wet season but will return to Cape Town soon to begin. Her project will focus on the coevolutionary consequences of host egg signatures in the fork-tailed...

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Tanmay and Claire visit collaborators in the USA

Tanmay and Claire visit collaborators in the USA

Tanmay Dixit and Claire Spottiswoode visited collaborators in the USA as part of developing questions for Tanmay’s PhD. Prof L. Mahadevan (Harvard University) and Dr Mary Caswell (Cassie) Stoddard (Princeton University) and their groups made them feel very welcome, and the thought-provoking and...

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Welcome (back) to Tanmay Dixit

Welcome (back) to Tanmay Dixit

Tanmay Dixit has commenced his PhD research on egg mimicry in the Cuckoo Finch and egg rejection behaviour by their hosts (family Cisticolidae). He plans to use approaches from applied mathematics, visual ecology and psychology to understand how hosts recognise eggs, and the implications for this...

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Luke’s final season of honeyguides

Luke McClean is back in the field for a final round of fieldwork as part of his PhD thesis examining interactions between honeyguides and their hosts. The focus for this field season will be gathering data to test whether honeyguide chicks can mimic the calls of an entire brood of hosts chicks,...

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New book chapter on begging call mimicry

New book chapter on begging call mimicry

Begging calls provide nestling brood parasites with a powerful and flexible tool for avoiding rejection, altering parental provisioning and competing with host nestmates. Despite much research into the topic, no synthesis of parasite vocal strategies for host manipulation has yet been made. In a...

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Birds choose nest sites that match their own camouflage

Animals that rely on camouflage can choose the best places to conceal themselves based on their individual appearance, our work in Zambia has found. Studying nine species of nightjar, plover and courser, we found that individual birds adjust their choices of where to nest based on their specific...

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New project on honeyguide-human mutualism, with gratitude to the ERC

New project on honeyguide-human mutualism, with gratitude to the ERC

Thanks to the wonderful support of a European Research Council Consolidator Grant, we are starting a new project on the evolution and ecology of the mutualistic relationship between honeyguides and human honey-hunters, working mainly in Mozambique, as well as Zambia, Tanzania, and elsewhere. New...

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How multiple species affect each other’s ever-evolving eggs

How multiple species affect each other’s ever-evolving eggs

Brood-parasitic birds lay eggs that mimic those of other species, to trick hosts into incubating their egg and raising their chick. Hosts often fight back by evolving egg colours and patterns that look different from those of their parasites, making an impostor easier to spot. In this study, we...

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A new framework for analysing mimicry in the natural world

A new framework for analysing mimicry in the natural world

Mimicry is responsible for some of the most striking adaptations found in nature. It occurs across a huge diversity of taxonomic groups and exploits all manner of sensory systems – from sight to sound to smell. Classic examples of mimicry include the close visual resemblance between the eggs of...

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New paper on migratory birds

New paper on migratory birds

The lives of migratory birds breeding in Europe and wintering in Africa south of the Sahara are governed by environmental conditions experienced thousands of kilometres apart. In this paper, Marjorie Sorensen cleverly measured isotopes and hormones deposited in growing feathers to track the...

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Honeyguides on BBC Radio 4

Honeyguides on BBC Radio 4

The BBC Radio 4 series "Natural Histories" is featuring honeyguides on 18 October (11h00 BST; repeat on 24 October at 21h00). On the programme, Claire Spottiswoode talks about our research on the Jekyll-and-Hyde lives of these intriguing birds – their brutal life as brood parasites of other birds...

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New field season underway in Zambia

The spring leaves are unfurling in Zambia's miombo woodlands at the end of the dry season, and birds are breeding. Assisted by our usual wonderful field team, Luke McClean is starting his MSc research at the University of Cape Town on honeyguide-host interactions (with a special focus on Lesser...

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New paper on honeyguide-human interactions

New paper on honeyguide-human interactions

In Mozambique, we've been studying the other side of honeyguide's lives: honeyguides are not only brutal brood parasites of other birds, but also the cooperative partners of human honey-hunters. In collaboration the Niassa Carnivore Project, we show that Yao honey-hunters in the Niassa National...

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New paper on nest camouflage

When should a ground-nesting bird, protected only by its own camouflage, flee its nest to save itself from an approaching predator? In this study we show that nesting nightjars, plovers and coursers in Zambia time their escape from a threat depending on how well camouflaged their eggs and their...

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New paper on range changes in hosts and brood parasites

New paper on range changes in hosts and brood parasites

Africa's vegetation is changing fast, owing to climate change and other results of human activities. How does this affect the distributions of interacting species such as brood parasites and their hosts? In this paper using data from the South African Bird Atlas Project, we show that parasites...

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Leverhulme studentship for Luke McClean

Leverhulme studentship for Luke McClean

Luke McClean has been awarded a two-year Leverhulme Study Abroad Studentship to carry out MSc research on coevolutionary interactions between lesser honeyguides and their hosts in Zambia, based at the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town. Luke is a graduate...

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Breeding behaviour of an elusive bird

Breeding behaviour of an elusive bird

The streaky-breasted flufftail is a highly enigmatic and skulking tiny migratory rail species that lives in the flooded grassy 'dambos' of our Zambian study area. In a new article, Gabriel Jamie and our chief field assistants Collins Moya and Lazaro Hamusikili describe for the first time its...

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New paper on blood parasitism in wintering migrants in Zambia

Migratory birds breeding in Europe often have chronic malaria infections which are assumed to have been picked up on their wintering grounds in Africa. But we know little about their effects in Africa where it's assumed acute infections might occur. Dr Marjorie Sorensen studied willow warblers...

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New paper on why migrants sing

Why do many migratory bird species that breed in Europe sing extravagant songs on their wintering grounds in tropical Africa, thousands of miles away from where they attract their mates? Dr Marjorie Sorensen's PhD field research on great reed warblers (left) in Zambia points to an intriguing...

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New paper on nest camouflage

Camouflage is one of the most famous examples of adaptation in nature, but amazingly, it has proven surprisingly hard to show that it really works in the wild, as seen by the eyes of the appropriate predators. This study shows that natural nests in the wild in Zambia survive better when they're...

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Honeyguides on BBC2

Honeyguides on BBC2

Our Greater Honeyguides killing their Little Bee-eater hosts star in the 'Sex, Lies and Dirty Tricks' episode of BBC Natural History Unit's "World's Sneakiest Animals" TV series, presented by Chris Packham. The first broadcast is at 20h00 on 14 January 2015, on BBC Two. The Natural History Unit...

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How multiple species affect each other’s ever-evolving eggs

New paper on egg signatures

Host species of brood-parasitic birds can evolve features such as spots, squiggles and colours on their eggs that act like ‘signatures' that are difficult for parasites to forge, helping hosts to detect and reject imposter eggs. In this new paper, we show that hosts of cuckoo finches and diederik...

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New paper on aggressive mimicry

In a new paper we show experimentally that adult female cuckoo finches (at left in photo) in Zambia have evolved to resemble harmless and abundant bishop-birds (right), which should help them to slip past being attacked by host parents while they try to lay their egg. However, hosts are not fooled...

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Leverhulme Fellowship for Nick Horrocks

Dr Nicholas Horrocks has been awarded a three-year Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship to continue working on our study systems in Zambia. Nick’s fellowship project is entitled "Phenotypic plasticity in reproductive investment in a rapidly changing world” and will focus on whether ground-nesting...

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New paper on honeyguide parasitism

New paper on honeyguide parasitism

Being parasitised by a greater honeyguide is very bad news for a host – the young honeyguide stabs the host's young to death with special bill hooks as soon as it hatches (more here). It's therefore puzzling that little bee-eater hosts seem not to recognise and eject honeyguide eggs from their...

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MoU signed with Copperbelt University

MoU signed with Copperbelt University

Exciting news for us is that our Memorandum of Understanding between Copperbelt University (in Kitwe, Zambia), the University of Cambridge (UK) and the University of Cape Town (South Africa) was signed by our respective heads of department. This MoU sets out our commitment to continue the very...

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Outreach in Zambia

Outreach in Zambia

Our research in Zambia is enabled by a brilliant team of local nest-finding assistants. Gabriel Jamie, Claire Spottiswoode and Collins Moya gave illustrated talks to share our past brood parasite research findings, and future plans, with them and their families living on our study area. Please see...

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African Cuckoos on BBC One

Our African Cuckoos and their Fork-tailed Drongo hosts star in the "Parenthood" episode of the BBC Natural History Unit's "Life Story" TV series, narrated by Sir David Attenborough. The broadcast is at 21h00 GMT on BBC One. The Natural History Unit team visited us in Zambia in September–October...

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Dr Lackson Chama visits UCT

Dr Lackson Chama visits UCT

We were very happy to welcome Dr Lackson Chama, from the Department of Zoology and Aquatic Sciences at Copperbelt University in Zambia, on a four-day visit to the University of Cape Town. Lackson gave seminars at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute and at Stellenbosch University on his research on the...

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New video on our camouflage work

New video on our camouflage work

Arran Frood from the BBSRC (our main funders) has made a lovely 13 minute video about our joint field research in Zambia and South Africa with Exeter University's Sensory Ecology and Evolution Group on the evolution of egg camouflage, narrated by Jolyon Troscianko: watch it below. Also see...

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Our research at ISBE 2014

Our research at ISBE 2014

Coming to the International Society for Behavioral Ecology conference in New York City from July 31st to August 5th? Five of us will be giving talks there about our research in Zambia (and in Claire's case, Mozambique): Marjorie Sorensen on 'Why do migratory birds sing in winter?' Claire...

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New migratory bird paper

New migratory bird paper

Why do migratory birds sing on their non-breeding grounds in Africa during the northern winter? It's long been assumed that they are defending individual non-breeding territories, but by means of field experiments and radio-tracking of Willow Warblers in the field in Zambia, PhD student Marjorie...

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New egg camouflage game

For the last three years we've been studying the evolution of nest camouflage in ground-nesting birds such as nightjars, plovers and coursers in the field in Zambia (and South Africa), in collaboration with Exeter University's Sensory Ecology Group. Play a new computer game online and by exerting...

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New field season

It's the rainy reason in the miombo woodlands of south-central Africa, and we're back in the field in Choma. Gabriel Jamie is kicking off his PhD research on the role of phenotypic plasticity in facilitating the amazing radiation of Vidua brood-parasitic finches and their hosts, and Wenfei...

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Perspectives on brood parasitism and cooperative breeding

Perspectives on brood parasitism and cooperative breeding

Naomi Langmore's team at the Australian National University have just published a wonderful paper in Science showing that brood parasitism may have been a significant force in the evolution of cooperative breeding in birds: see Feeney et al. (2014) Brood parasitism and the evolution of cooperative...

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New Cuckoo Finch paper

Cuckoo Finch eggs mimic those of their hosts, and the same Cuckoo Finch female commonly lays two or more eggs in the same host nest. In this paper we show that this increases her chances of tricking hosts into accepting the parasitic eggs as their own. By increasing the proportion of foreign eggs...

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New field season begins

New field season begins

It's spring in the miombo woodlands of south-central Africa, and we're back in the field in Choma. Nicholas Horrocks, Wenfei Tong and Claire Spottiswoode are just starting a new season of field experiments on honeyguides, and Jolyon Troscianko and Jared Wilson-Aggarwal are starting their second...

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New honeyguide paper published

Honeyguides and other brood parasitic birds are famous for tricking host parents by laying eggs that mimic their own. Honeyguide eggs mimic host eggs in size yet, surprisingly, bee-eater hosts are undiscriminating and readily accept mismatched eggs. This study shows that honeyguide egg size...

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