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UMD Research Reveals Massive Cropland Expansion in Brazil

December 18, 2018
Contacts: 

Sara Gavin, 301-405-1733

soybean crops in brazilCOLLEGE PARK, Md.— Brazil, one of the world’s leading producers of commodities like soybean, corn, sugar cane and cotton, now has almost twice as much land dedicated to growing crops than it did in 2000, new research from the University of Maryland Department of Geographical Sciences finds. 

Using detailed satellite data, researchers analyzed cropland area in Brazil between 2000 and 2014. They discovered about 80 percent of the cropland expansion in the country was due to conversion of pasture and 20 percent from conversion of natural vegetation. Their findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) December 17.  

“Brazil was already one of the world’s top producers of commodity crops in the year 2000, when our study began, so it was striking to see the extent of cropland expansion that has occurred since then,” said Viviana Zalles, a doctoral candidate in geographical sciences and lead author on the study in PNAS. “Brazil is a country with the potential to cultivate an area much larger than the United States’ Corn Belt and, therefore, our findings have implications for global supply chains.”

The research project was conducted by the Global Land Analysis and Discovery (GLAD) team in the Department of Geographical Sciences at UMD. The GLAD lab is a world leader in mapping large-scale land cover change and monitoring these changes using remote sensing data. The research team hopes their latest findings in Brazil will inform further studies on the causes and effects of cropland expansion, in order to help policymakers and stakeholders implement sustainable land management practices.

“Whenever you have such a significant shift in land use over a relatively short period of time, there will inevitably be environmental and socioeconomic challenges, such as biodiversity loss, increased greenhouse gas emissions, impacts to human health and national economies,” said Professor Matthew Hansen, co-director of GLAD. “By monitoring these types of dynamic changes, we hope to help mitigate or even prevent the negative repercussions.” 

The GLAD team is now working on mapping cropland in all of South America dating back to 1985 to provide a broader understanding of land use changes on the continent. 

The study published in PNAS was funded by the Gordon and Betty More Foundation (Grant #5131) and the NASA Land Cover and Land Use Change Program (Grants NNX15AK65G and NNX12AC78G).

 

 

Unpredictable Food Sources Drive Some Bats to Hunt Cooperatively

December 17, 2018
Contacts: 

 Irene Ying 301-405-5204

 

Three Mexican fish-eating bats hunting over the ocean at night. Photo: Glenn Thompson (Click image to download hi-res version.)

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Humans aren’t the only species that have dinner parties. Scientists have observed many animals, including bats, eating in groups. However, little was known about whether bats actively help each other find food, a process known as social foraging.

With the help of novel miniature sensors, an international group of biologists that included University of Maryland Biology Professor Gerald Wilkinson found that bat species foraged socially if their food sources were in unpredictable locations, such as insect swarms or fish schools. In contrast, bats with food sources at fixed locations foraged on their own and did not communicate with one another while foraging or eating. The results of the study were published recently in the journal Current Biology.

“We were able to show that bats who can’t predict where their food will be are the ones that cooperate with each other to forage,” Wilkinson said. “And I don’t think they are unique—I think that if more studies are done, we will find that other bat species do similar things.”

The researchers selected five bat species from around the world for the study—two species with unpredictable food sources and three with predictable food sources. They fit each bat with a small, lightweight sensor that operated for up to three nights. Because the sensor only weighed approximately 4 grams, it did not hinder the bat’s movements. The sensor recorded GPS data to log each bat’s flight path and audio in ultrasonic frequencies to document bat calls. The researchers recaptured each bat to download the data. In all, the researchers tracked 94 bats in this study.

Edward Hurme, a UMD biological sciences graduate student in Wilkinson’s laboratory and a co-lead author of the paper, tracked one of the bat species—the Mexican fish-eating bat, which lives on a remote Mexican island.

A Mexican fish-eating bat with a sensor strapped to its back. Photo: Stephan Greif (Click image to download hi-res version.)

“We took a fishing boat to an uninhabited island where these bats live and camped there for a month at a time,” Hurme said. “Field work can be challenging. One time, a hurricane came and all we could do was hide in the tent. Fortunately, we survived and so did our data.”

After collecting data on all five bat species, the researchers charted the bats’ flight paths and analyzed the audio recordings. They listened for the distinctive, species-specific calls the bats make during normal flight and when trying to capture prey. The research team used this information to map where and when the bats found and ate food and whether other bats were nearby.

The results showed that the three species of bats that eat predictable food sources, such as fruits, foraged on their own. When they found food, they also ate alone. This makes sense, according to Wilkinson, because they didn’t need any help finding food. In fact, having other bats around could create harmful competition for food.

In contrast, the two species of bats with unpredictable food sources often flew together with other members of their species. Moreover, when a tracked bat found prey, other individuals nearby also began to forage. The findings suggest that these bats forage cooperatively and socially within their own species.

The researchers also found that socially foraging bats may eavesdrop on one another by staying close enough to hear each other’s feeding calls.

“We tested this hypothesis by playing recordings of white noise, normal calls and feeding calls for these bats to hear,” Hurme said. “We found that bats who heard normal calls became more attracted to the speakers than those who heard white noise. And when we played feeding calls, bats dive-dombed the speakers.”

The next step for this research is to investigate what strategies bats use in social foraging. In particular, Hurme hopes to discover whether these bats pay attention to the identity of their fellow foragers.

“We would like to know if socially foraging bats will follow any member of their own species or if they prefer specific individuals who are the most successful at finding food,” Hurme said. “There is some evidence that bats can recognize each other by voice, so we are working on ways to identify individuals by their calls.”

 

Three Mexican fish-eating bat flight paths (black, red and green) while foraging. White circles indicate calls from bats of the same species during flight; orange circles indicate feeding calls. The data shows that multiple Mexican fish-eating bats frequently flew and fed together. Video: Edward Hurme.

 

The above video shows three Mexican fish-eating bat flight paths (black, red and green) while foraging. White circles indicate calls from bats of the same species during flight; orange circles indicate feeding calls. The data shows that multiple Mexican fish-eating bats frequently flew and fed together. Video: Edward Hurme

 


Photos: 

Three Mexican fish-eating bats hunting over the ocean at night. Photo: Glenn Thompson (Click image to download hi-res version.)

A Mexican fish-eating bat with a sensor straped to its back.  Photo by Stephan Greif. (Click for high-res image) 

 

 

University of Maryland to Host Winter 2018 Commencement

December 14, 2018
Contacts: 

Natifia Mullings, 301-405-4076

 

COLLEGE PARK, Md.—The University of Maryland will host its 2018 winter commencement ceremony on December 18, 2018 at XFINITY Center to celebrate this academic milestone for approximately 3,200 graduates from bachelor’s and master’s degree programs from across the university. The commencement address will be delivered by John B. King Jr., former U.S. Secretary of Education under President Barack Obama and current president and CEO of The Education Trust -- a national nonprofit that works to close opportunity gaps for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds. He will be joined by this year’s student speaker, Rehan Staton, who is graduating with a degree in history.

 

WHO:

  • University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh
  • Commencement Speaker John B. King Jr., president and CEO of The Education Trust
  • Student Commencement Speaker Rehan Staton
  • December Class of 2018 University of Maryland Graduates

 

WHEN: Tuesday, December 18, 2018

  • Processional—5:40 p.m.
  • Ceremony—6 p.m.

*Media should arrive prior to the processional*

 

WHERE:

XFINITY Center, University of Maryland, College Park

XFINITY Center is located on Paint Branch Drive, near the intersection of Paint Branch Drive and Route 193/University Boulevard). Clickhere for directions.


PARKING/CHECK-IN:

Media must park in lot 4B and enter the Xfinity Center through the loading dock.To ensure access to the ceremony, media must RSVP and show credentials upon entry.

 

LIVE VIDEO STREAM:

The ceremony will be streamed live on the University of Maryland’s YouTube channel,here.

 

For more information, visit www.commencement.umd.edu.

More Women Opting to Give Birth Outside of a Hospital, UMD Research Finds

December 12, 2018
Contacts: 

Sara Gavin, 301-405-1733

Newborn baby feetCOLLEGE PARK, Md.—An increasing number of women in the United States are choosing to give birth outside of hospitals and the demand for nontraditional delivery options is likely higher than current data shows, according to new research from the Maryland Population Research Center (MPRC). Published in the December 11 edition of Birth, the research finds that one out of every 62 births (1.61 percent) in the United States in 2017 took place at a home or in a birth center—the most ever recorded in the 30 years of national birth certificate data available.

After a gradual decline between 1990 and 2004, out-of-hospital births increased by 85 percent from 2004 to 2017, researchers discovered. They also found that non-Hispanic white women were more likely than any other group to have an out-of-hospital birth. For these women, one out of every 41 births (2.43 percent) was an out-of-hospital birth. 

MPRC researchers say these figures underestimate the true number of women who choose out-of-hospital births, because those who give birth outside of the hospital but then are transferred to a hospital during labor or delivery are reported on birth certificates as hospital births. Meanwhile, newly available data on payment methods showed more than two-thirds of planned home births were self-paid by the mother (i.e. not covered by either private health insurance or Medicaid), compared to one-third of birth center births and just 3 percent of hospital births. 

“The lack of access to payment options for out-of-hospital births may prevent many women from making these choices, suggesting demand for out-of-hospital birth is considerably higher than what the data tells us,” said research professor Marian MacDorman, the lead author on the study. “The question that arises from our findings is, what is happening during hospital births that is leading women to seek other options, even when that means bucking convention and paying more to deliver at home or in a birth center?” 

A recent national survey of post-partum mothers showed that 64 percent would consider a birth center birth and 29 percent would consider a home birth for future pregnancies. Researchers say women who choose out-of-hospital birth do so because they feel it is safer, with lower rates of cesarean and other interventions, and because they feel more in control of their experience.

“These findings raise questions about the nature of care in the dominant model of maternity care in the US,” MacDorman said. “Many mothers are turning away from hospitals because they’re seeking a place to give birth where they feel empowered, engaged and safe.”

 

 

 

The University of Maryland, College Park Closure Notice: December 21, 2018 - January 1, 2019

December 12, 2018

The University of Maryland campus and administrative offices will be closed on December 21, 2018 through January 1, 2019. Media inquiries sent during this time will be responded to as the university reopens. 

Important Information from the University Health Center

December 11, 2018
Contacts: 

Katie Lawson, 301-405-4621 

Updated as of December 11, 2018

The University of Maryland has received reports of students with confirmed Adenovirus-associated illness, and are saddened that one of those students recently passed away as a result of the illness. Adenoviruses are common causes of colds, but there are strains that can cause more serious illness. We urge our community to take seriously this strain of a common virus. 

For the most up-to-date campus communications, timeline and FAQs regarding Adenovirus, visit https://health.umd.edu/adenovirus-resources. For information on the university's plans to expand the standard Winter Break residence hall cleaning program beyond their typical cleaning practices to include disinfecting frequently-touched surfaces inside student rooms, visit http://reslife.umd.edu/roomdisinfection/

 

Statement from University spokesperson Katie Lawson (Nov. 26, 2018): 

The University of Maryland is deeply saddened to learn of the death of one of our students from Adenovirus-associated illness. Our condolences are with Olivia’s family and friends. 

Since learning of an isolated case of Adenovirus on November 1, we have been working with the state and local health department to track cases and inform our community how seriously to take cold and flu season - especially for anyone with special health circumstances or a weakened immune system.   

Crews are redoubling cleaning efforts in high-touch areas to tackle the spread of viruses, faculty have been given guidance to be flexible with students who are ill, and the Health Center is on high alert, using the state’s best practices for treatment and testing. 

We understand that there are concerns from our campus about how the virus spreads. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that no link exists between mold and Adenovirus.

 

Research Citations Show Academic and Non-Academic Researchers Win When They Collaborate

December 11, 2018
Contacts: 

Lee Tune 301-405-4679

COLLEGE PARK, Md. –   A new analysis of research citations by University of Maryland professor of computer science Ben Shneiderman iindicates that the average number of citations a university research paper receives is progressively boosted by having: (1) more than one author; (2) coauthors from multiple U.S. institutions; (3) international coauthors; and, most powerfully, (4) coauthors from business and/or government and/or NGOs.

These and related findings are presented in a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), in which Shneiderman makes the case for “the superior benefit of what he calls a “Twin-Win Model” for conducting research—a model that encourages the formation of teams that simultaneously pursue the goals of generating breakthrough published research, AND validated, ready to disseminate solutions to real human problems.

Shneiderman—a widely recognized pioneer in human-computer interaction and information visualization and a Distinguished University Professor—found that for UMD researchers a research collaboration with non-academics (business, government and/or NGOs) produced research papers that averaged 20.1 citations, almost seven times the number of citations (3.0) of published research by single-authors. These findings were based on data, through 2016, from the Elsevier SCOPUS database, which holds the metadata on 70 million published papers.

Other “striking” results were that research produced by collaborations among University of Maryland faculty averaged 6.1 citations; UMD researchers collaborations with faculty at other US universities produced papers that averaged 9.2 citations; and UMD researcher collaborations with international faculty raised the average paper citation to 13.9.

In the article, published in the December 10th edition of PNAS, National Academy of Engineering member Shneiderman wrote that SCOPUS data on  research output at other top U.S. private and public universities shows this same pattern of substantially higher impact university research when researchers at these institutions co-authored papers with off-campus colleagues.

According to his PNAS paper, evidence shows business professionals also benefit from working with academics.  Shneiderman found that SCOPUS data on published research from 12 large corporations during 2012–2016 showed that papers by corporate researchers that also had academic coauthors had almost twice the average citation count (11.7) as papers without academic coauthors (average citations of 6.3). These data provide new evidence in support of the arguments in Shneiderman’s 2016 book The New ABCs of Research: Achieving Breakthrough Collaborations.

Professor Lorne Whitehead at the University of British Columbia notes: “It makes sense that when experts from different societal sectors partner deeply, their combined expertise can produce more ideas and better research outcomes. This view has motivated the formation of the Highly Integrative Basic and Responsive (HIBAR) Research Alliance, including the University of Maryland, the University of British Columbia, and others, with the goal of helping all universities advance this work.

“Shneiderman’s newly discovered correlations strongly support this effort,” said Whitehead, who was not involved in this PNAS study. Whitehead and Shneiderman are among a number of academics who helped form the HIBAR Alliance.

In his new PNAS paper, Shneiderman further makes the case for these twin-win university-business collaborations by citing a 2017 study in the journal Science that looked at the relationship between scientific research papers and subsequent patents.

“This study found that patents often cited academic papers, but more importantly, academic papers that are cited by patents get greater attention in the research community,“ he wrote. And he notes this study in Science found that patented inventions that draw directly on scientific advances also were more impactful compared to other patents.

“There is growing evidence that when academics work with business or government partners, they address authentic problems that challenge the research team to produce more potent solutions. Such partnerships often have access to more resources (money, staff, data, etc.), enabling them to take on more substantive problems,” Shneiderman said.

He noted that some academic researchers continue to have reservations about such partnerships. And certainly there are challenges in such collaborations for both university researchers and their collaborators in the private or government sectors. However, many researchers and many universities, including the University of Maryland, have recognized the power and benefits of such partnerships, he said.

Strong Growth in Carbon Emissions Expected for 2018

December 10, 2018
Contacts: 

Sara Gavin, 301-405-1733

COLLEGE PARK, Md.-- Global carbon emissions are set to hit an all-time high in 2018 according to the Global Carbon Project, a group of international researchers focused on global sustainability, including three from the University of Maryland’s Department of Geographical Sciences.

The group issued the 2018 Global Carbon Budget, a report recently published  simultaneously in the journals Nature, Earth System Science Data and Environmental Research Letters, which reveals that carbon dioxide emissions are projected to rise more than 2 percent driven by solid growth in the use of coal and sustained growth in oil and gas usage. CO2 emissions have now risen for a second year, after three years of little-to-no growth from 2014 to 2016. 

"While fossil fuel emissions continue to rise and dominate the budget, emissions from land use change and terrestrial carbon uptake remain important and highly uncertain," said Geographical Sciences Professor George Hurtt. 

Hurtt and Louise Chini, an assistant research professor, provided global land-use data for the study and Ben Poulter, an adjunct professor, contributed estimates of land carbon uptake.

The Global Carbon Project team says the report is a further call to action for governments at the UN Climate Change Conference in Katowice this week. However, the researchers point to changing energy trends and say there is still time to address climate change if efforts to curb carbon emissions rapidly expand in all sectors of the economy. 

While almost all countries contributed to the rise in global emissions, the 10 biggest emitters in 2018 are China, the United States, India, Russia, Japan, Germany, Iran, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Canada. The European Union as a whole region of countries would rank third. However, researchers say the good news is that 19 countries were able to reduce emissions over the past decade and still demonstrated economic growth.

The Global Carbon Project is an international research project within the Future Earth research initiative on global sustainability. It aims to develop a complete picture of the global carbon cycle, including both its biophysical and human dimensions together with the interactions and feedbacks between them. This marks the 13th edition of the annual update that started in 2006.

Saltier Waterways Create Dangerous “Chemical Cocktails”

December 3, 2018
Contacts: 

Matthew Wright 301-405-9267

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The increasing saltiness and alkalinity of streams and rivers is creating a toxic mix that includes metals and nitrogen-containing compounds and threatens drinking water supplies and ecosystem health nationwide, according to a new University of Maryland-led study.

“The bottom line of our findings is that when humans add salt to waterways, that salt also releases a lot of dangerous collateral chemicals,” said Sujay Kaushal, a professor of geology and lead author of the study.

The new findings build on a study by the same research group earlier this year that described a “Freshwater Salinization Syndrome,” caused by road deicers, fertilizers and other salty compounds that humans indirectly release into waterways.

The new research takes a closer look at the global, national and local consequences of this harmful runoff. Published December 3 in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, the study shows that salty, alkaline freshwater can release a variety of dangerous chemicals that travel together throughout watersheds and have much worse effects than the individual contaminants alone. 

The group’s latest work uses data from more than 20 streams in different regions of the U.S., as well as data and field observations from the Washington, D.C., and Baltimore metropolitan areas. Their findings highlight the need for new and more comprehensive regulation and pollution management strategies. “It’s clear that regulatory agencies need to find new ways to address these ‘chemical cocktails’ released by saltier water, rather than looking at individual freshwater pollutants one by one,” said Kaushal.

 In one set of observations, the researchers sampled water from the Paint Branch stream near the UMD campus before, during and after a 2017 snowstorm, allowing them to trace the effects of road salt washed into the streams by the melting snow.

“Salt concentrations during the snowstorm were surprisingly high—it was like we were analyzing sea water,” said Kelsey Wood ’15, a geology graduate student at UMD and a co-author of the study. “But we weren’t expecting such a high corresponding peak in metals." 

A similar chemical dynamic was evident when Flint, Michigan, switched its primary water source to the Flint River in 2014. The river’s high salt load combined with chemical treatments made the water more corrosive, causing lead to leach from water pipes and creating that city’s well-documented water crisis.

Kaushal’s group began by assessing previously published data from rivers in the U.S., Europe, Canada, Russia, China and Iran, substantially expanding the geographic boundaries of the researchers’ previous work. Their analysis suggests that Freshwater Salinization Syndrome could be a global phenomenon, with the most conclusive support showing a steady trend of increased salt ions in both U.S. and European rivers. These trends trace back at least 50 years, with some data reaching back far enough to support a 100-year trend.

"Given what we are finding, I continue to be surprised by the scope and magnitude of the recent degradation of Earth's surface waters,” said study co-author Gene Likens, president emeritus of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and a distinguished research professor at the University of Connecticut. “The formation of novel chemical cocktails is causing deterioration far beyond my expectations."

The increased release of salt into the environment by people can in turn spur stream beds to release more salt, said Kaushal, who also has an appointment in UMD’s Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center.

“This high salt load not only liberates metals and other contaminants, but there is also evidence that the initial salt pulse releases other salt ions from the streambed and soils, such as magnesium and potassium, which further contribute to keeping overall salt levels high,” he said. 

 

New Machine Learning Method Predicts Possible Additions to Global List of Threatened Plant Species

December 3, 2018

Map showing predictions for at-risk species 

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – A new method co-developed by Anahí Espíndola, an assistant professor of entomology at the University of Maryland, uses the power of machine learning and open-access data to predict species that could be eligible for at-risk status. The research team created and trained a machine learning algorithm to assess more than 150,000 species of plants from all corners of the world, making their project among the largest assessments of conservation risk to date.

 

According to their results—published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Scienceson December 3, 2018—more than 10 percent of these species are highly likely to qualify for an at-risk classification on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN)Red List of Threatened Species. This list ranks threatened species in one of five categories, from of least concern to critically endangered. It is a powerful tool for researchers and policymakers working to stem the tide of species loss across the globe. But adding even a single species to the list is a large task, demanding countless hours of expensive, rigorous and highly specialized research.

Because of these limitations, a large number of known species have not yet been formally assessed by the IUCN for inclusion on the list. and ranked in one of five categories, from least concern to critically endangered. This deficit is quite apparent in plants: Only about 5 percent of all currently known plant species appear on IUCN’s Red List in any capacity.

Lead author Tara Pelletier, an assistant professor of biology at Radford University, worked with  Espíndola to perform the machine learning analysis.  The new algorithm they and collaborators created is a predictive model that can be applied to any grouping of species at any scale, from the entire globe to a single city park.  

The researchers applied their model to the many thousands of plant species that remain unlisted by IUCN. According to the results, more than 15,000 of the species—roughly 10 percent of the total assessed by the team—have a high probability of qualifying as near-threatened, at a minimum.

Espíndola and her colleagues mapped the data and noted several major geographical trends in the model’s predictions. At-risk species tended to cluster in areas already known for their high native biodiversity, such as the Central American rainforests and southwestern Australia. The model also flagged regions such as California and the southeastern United States, which are home to a large number of endemic species, meaning that these species do not naturally occur anywhere else on Earth.

“When I first started thinking about this project, I suspected that many regions with high diversity would be well-studied and protected. But we found the opposite to be true,” Espíndola said. “Many of the high-diversity areas corresponded to regions with the highest probability of risk. When we saw the maps, we were surprised it was that clear. Endemic species also tend to be more at risk because they are usually confined to smaller areas.”

The model also flagged a few surprising areas not typically known for their biodiversity, such as the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, as having a high number of at-risk species. Some of the most imperiled regions have not received enough attention from researchers, according to Espíndola. She hopes that her method can help to fill in some of these knowledge gaps by identifying regions and species in need of further study.

“Let’s say you wanted to assess every species of wild bee on one continent. So you do the assessment and find that only one species is at risk. Now you’ve used all those resources to identify an area with low risk, which is still helpful, but not ideal when resources are limited. We want to help prevent that from happening,” Espíndola said. “Our analysis was global, but the model can be adapted for use at any geographic scale. Everything we’ve done is 100 percent open access, highlighting the power of publicly-available data. We hope people will use our model—and we hope they point out errors and help us fix them, to make it better.”

Building a global predictive model of  at-risk species

The researchers built this predictive model using open-access data from the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) and the TRY Plant Trait Database.

Espíndola and Pelletier trained the model using GBIF and TRY data from the relatively small group of plant species already on the IUCN Red List. This allowed the researchers to assess and fine-tune the model’s accuracy by checking its predictions against the listed species’ known IUCN risk status. The Red List sorts non-extinct species into one of five classification categories: least concern, near-threatened, vulnerable, endangered and critically endangered.

The researchers applied their model to the many thousands of plant species that remain unlisted by IUCN. According to the results, more than 15,000 of the species—roughly 10 percent of the total assessed by the team—have a high probability of qualifying as near-threatened, at a minimum.

The research paper, “Predicting plant conservation priorities on a global scale,” Tara Pelletier, Bryan Carstens, David Tank, Jack Sullivan and Anahí Espíndola, was published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Scienceson December 3, 2018.

 

This work was supported by the National Science Foundation (Award Nos. DEB-1457519, DEB-1457726 and EPS-809935), the National Institutes of Health (Award Nos. NCRR 1P20RR016454-01 and NCRR 1P20RR016448-01), DIVERSITAS/Future Earth and the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig. The content of this article does not necessarily reflect the views of these organizations.

 

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