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Acid Rain: Rain with a high level of acidity caused generally by pollution by oxides of nitrogen and sulphur produced by coal and oil combustion. The oxides combine with water in the atmosphere forming acids such as nitric and sulphuric acids. Acid rain has caused the deaths of countless living organisms both by producing a high level acidity and by leaching metal ions from the soil into rivers and lakes. The effects can be disastrous to all ecosystems.

Aeolian Deposits:  A variety of deposits or sediments that are deposited by wind and consist of sand or dust (loess).  

Aerobe: An organism which can live and grow only in the presence of free oxygen.

Aerobic: Where molecular oxygen is part of the environment.

Anaerobic: Where molecular oxygen is absent from the environment.

Autotroph: An organism that needs only simple inorganic compounds to grow, such as carbon dioxide. Most plants and some bacteria are autotrophic.

Bag Limits:  Refers to the number of animals a hunter may legally harvest during one hunting season.

Bedrock:  The solid rock that lies under unconsolidated deposits of soil, sand, clay, and gravel on the earth's surface.

Biodegrading:  A process in which a substance or material can be broken down into simpler compounds by microorganisms and other decomposers such as fungi.

Biomass: Total weight of the organisms constituting a given trophic level or population, or inhabiting a defined area.

Biome: A major ecological community of organisms, occupying a large area.

Biosphere: Part of the earth and its atmosphere in which organisms live.  The biosphere is a very thin layer and includes the land surface and subsurface, the world ocean, and a thin part of the troposphere.

Biota: The flora and fauna of a particular area

Biotic Succession: A component of a succession in which the composition of communities is controlled by interactions among different species rather than by physical characteristics

Biotope: A habitat that is identical in its main climatic, soil and biotic conditions

Biotype: A naturally occurring population consisting of individuals with the same genetic makeup

Bitumen: A general geological term for various solid and semi-solid hydrocarbons.

Blue List: A list generated by the Alberta Wildlife Management Division that indicates the status of a species. Species are placed on the Blue List when current knowledge suggests that these species may be at risk. These species have undergone non-cyclical declines in population or habitat, or reductions in provincial distribution.

Bog:  Also known as "muskeg", bogs consist of a thick ground cover layer of sphagnum moss, and may also be covered in a black spruce or larch forest.  Open water is rare, but the water table is very close to the surface.  Bogs are acidic and very low in nutrients.

Brunisolic Soil:  Very poorly developed soil with a thin topsoil layer.  Common in the Foothills and at low elevations in the Rocky Mountain regions.

Carbon Cycle: The circulation of carbon through ecosystems. Carbon atoms from carbon dioxide are incorporated into organic compounds formed by green plants during photosynthesis. These compounds are eventually oxidized during respiration by the plants, which made them, or by herbivores, carnivores and saprophytes, thus releasing carbon dioxide for further photosynthesis.

Carnivore: A flesh-eating animal or plant. Carnivores are usually secondary consumers in the food chain and are members of the Carnivora. They are primarily predatory, placental mammals that have large, canine teeth and sharp molars or pre-molars. 

Carrying Capacity:  Maximum number of species which an area can support during the harshest part of the year or the maximum biomass which it can maintain indefinitely.

Chernozem Soil:  A productive, well-developed soil with a thick, rich topsoil layer.  These soils are found in the grassland and aspen parkland natural regions.  The best agricultural land in Alberta is on this soil type.

Classification: Biological classification is a naming system for all organisms based primarily on structural criteria and arranges organisms in a hierarchy of groups that reflect evolutionary relationships. Generally the smallest group is the species but sub-species and varieties may also be identified. The classification system helps in the rapid identification of organisms and indicates their natural interrelationships.

Climate: The long term or integrated manifestation of weather.

Climatology: The study of climates over a long period of time.

Colluvial: Pertaining to loose sediment deposits usually found at the base of a cliff or slope brought there mainly by gravity.

Composting:  The controlled biological decomposition of organic solid waste under aerobic conditions.  Organic waste materials are transformed into soil amendments such as humus or mulch.

Conifer: The largest and most widely distributed order of gymnosperms, containing about 49 genera with approximately 570 species most of which are evergreen trees. Conifers are particularly abundant in the high latitudes of the northern hemisphere where they form the climax vegetation. Typically, conifers show a pyramidal growth pattern and bear simple leaves, often needles or scales.  Conifers are also commercially important as a source of timber for the papermaking, building, and furniture industries.  They are generally faster growing and develop a less dense wood than other trees. They are also known as softwood trees or Coniferales.

Coniferous Forest:  The Coniferous forest, also known as the Taiga or boreal forest, is the largest terrestrial biome on earth. It extends in a broad band across North America, Europe, and Asia to the southern border of the arctic tundra. It is also found at cool high elevations in the more temperate latitudes, for example, in much of the mountainous western region of North America. Long, cold winters, and short, occasionally warm, wet summers are typical of this region. The soil is thin, nutrient poor, and acidic. Within a coniferous forest there is usually only one or a few species of trees in a stand in any particular area. These may include different species of spruce, pine, or fir, and often there is sparse undergrowth present. Animal populations are mainly seed-eating squirrels and jays, herbivores such as leaf eating insects and larger browsing animals such as deer, moose, elk, snowshoe hare, and beavers. The typical predators for this area are grizzly bears, wolves, lynxes and wolverines. Many have thick coats of fur to insulate against the cold, and many of them go into hibernation during the long, cold winter months. 

Conservation: The planning and management of resources so as to secure their wise use and continuity of supply while maintaining and enhancing their quality, value, and diversity.

Consumer:  An organism that feeds on other living organisms, for example animals and parasitic plants would be considered consumers.  In a food chain, herbivores that eat green plants are primary consumers and carnivores that eat herbivores are secondary consumers. 

Convergent Evolution: The evolutions of two different groups of organisms so that they come to closely resemble one another. Also known as convergence.

Convivium: A population differentiated within the species and isolated geographically, usually sub-species and/or ecotypes.

Coulee:  A deep gulch or ravine formed by water erosion. Today they are often dry or have an underfit stream flowing through them. In Alberta, many coulees resulted from rapid flow of glacial melt water.

Cryosolic soil: Mineral or organic soils that have a permanently frozen layer within one metre of the soil's surface.

Deciduous Forest:  In the Northern Hemisphere these forest types are often referred to as "Deciduous Summer Forests" and typically have a 5-6 month growing season that may range from between 150 to 200 days. About 30 to 60 inches of rain falls each year, and is fairly evenly distributed throughout the year. The soils of the deciduous forest are relatively fertile, due to plenty of leaf litter. There is extensive plant diversity in the deciduous forest dominated by broadleaf deciduous hardwood trees such as oak, hickory, maple, ash, beech and others. The forests consist of 3-5 layers, which are relatively open with rich ground flora. There are usually one or two strata of trees, an understory of shrubs, and low growing forbs. Animals that typically inhabit the deciduous forests' of North America are bears, deer, bobcats, raccoons, squirrels, as well as many birds and invertebrates. The greatest concentration of animals is on and just below the forest floor. 

Decompose:  A process which separates materials into constituent parts of elements or into simpler compounds; to undergo chemical breakdown; decay or rot as a result of microbial or fungal action.

Deforestation: The permanent removal of forest and undergrowth.

Desert: An area where evaporation exceeds precipitation, for whatever reason, with consequent lack of vegetation. Evaporation rates will vary, according to temperature, but less than 25 centimeters of rain annually will produce a desert in almost any temperature range.

Detritus: Sediments or fragments of loose, disaggregated rock are known as detritus.  These fragments are angular and of varying size, and are easily transportable.  They accumulated at the base of slopes.

Diurnal: Daily, usually applied to events or cycles that repeat on daily intervals.

Dolostone:  A carbonate sedimentary rock that is crystalline in form and generally light colored.  Dolostone is often found in montane areas or alluvial plain. The main feature of dolostone is that it is composed of (or contains a large proportion of) calcium-magnesium carbonate (dolomite), that distinguishes it from limestone which is predominantly calcium carbonate.

Drought: A long period of unusually low rainfall resulting in parched ground and abnormal withering of vegetation. A drought is defined arbitrarily to suit the region.  For example: a period of 4 months without rain would be regarded as a drought only if people were unprepared for it and it was not normal. However, in a desert region, a drought might be considered a succession of unusually dry years.  From most perspectives drought is the norm on the prairies of North America.

Ecology: The study of relationships between living organisms and their environment.

Ecoregion: A part of an ecozone characterized by distinctive regional ecological factors, including climate, physiography, vegetation, soil, water and fauna. 

Ecosphere: The biosphere together with all the ecological factors that operate upon organisms.

Ecosystem: A community of interdependent organisms together with the environment that they inhabit and with which they interact.

Ecotone: A transitional zone between two habitats.

Ecotype: A sub-specific group that is genetically adapted to a particular habitat, but can interbreed with other ecotypes (or ecospecies) of the same species without loss of fertility.

Ecozone: An area at the earth's surface representative of large and very generalized
ecological units characterized by various abiotic and biotic factors. 

Emissions:  Anything that is discharged into the soil, air or water.

Endangered Species: According to the Alberta Wildlife Act a species whose present existence in Alberta is in danger of extinction within the next decade

Environment: The physical, chemical and biotic conditions surrounding an organism.

Ephemeral Wetlands:  Wetlands that fill with water in the spring but are dry by the end of the summer.

Epiphyte:  A plant that has no roots in the soil and lives above the ground surface, supported by another plant or object.  It obtains its nutrients from the air, rain water, and from organic debris on its support.

Erosion:  The breaking down or removal of rock material or soil by running water, glaciers, ice, or wind.

Escarpment:  A steep slope or long cliff that results from erosion or faulting and separates two relatively level areas of differing elevations. 

Extirpated Species: According to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada an extirpated species is one that no longer exists in the wild in Canada, but occurs elsewhere

Family: A major category in the taxonomic hierarchy, comprising groups of similar genera. Families are thought by some to represent the highest natural grouping. The Latin names of families usually end in the suffix –aceae. Groups of similar families are placed in orders. Large families may be split into tribes.

Fen: Nutrient rich, organic wetland influenced by mineral-bearing groundwater. Forms a moderately decomposed peat near the top. The surface is usually level and mostly covered with sedges, brown mosses, grasses and willow and birch trees and shrubs.

Fine Tailings:  Solid particles in the oil sand tailing that remain suspended in water, rather than settling to the bottom.  It is usually the clay and silt that forms the fine tailings.  It forms a gel-like material that releases water very slowly.  It is fairly stable, but not solid enough to be handled like a solid.

Flora: Plants of a particular region or from a particular time period.

Fluvial landform: A piece of land shaped or produced by river action.

Food Chain: A number of organisms forming a series through which energy is passed. At the base of the chain (the producer, or first trophic level) there is always a green plant or other autotrophy that traps energy, almost always from light, and produces food substances, thereby making energy available for the other (consumer) levels. Any natural community will have many interlinked food chains that make up a food web or food cycle.

Food Web:  A diagram that represents the feeding relationships between organisms within an ecosystem.  Food webs generally consist of a series of interconnecting food chains and it is important to understand that they are representative diagrams -- only some of the many possible relationships can be sown in such a diagram and it is typical to include only one or two carnivores at the highest level.

Forbs:  Any plant species, excluding grasses, that lacks the woody stems of trees and shrubs.

Genus: An important rank in the taxonomic hierarchy which is subordinate to family but above the rank of species. It is a group of obviously homogeneous species. Collections of genera (plural) are grouped into families. Large genera may be further subdivided into sections and series and even subgenera.

Glacial Drift:  More often referred to as "glacial diamicton" glacial drift is essentially surface material picked up and deposited by a glacier.  Also known as "till".

Glacier:  A large mass of ice formed, at least in part, on land by the compaction and recrystallization of snow, moving slowly down slope or outward in all directions due to the stress of its own weight and surviving from year to year.  The term "glacier" is usually, though not exclusively, confined to ice bodies that are constrained by valleys.  Ice bodies that are continental in scale are usually called "ice sheets".

Glaciofluvial Deposits:  Deposits of sediment on the bottom of rivers, deposited either by rivers or by meltwaters which could have taken different flow forms, that helped to drain the melting glaciers.  The drift that was released from the ice was carried away by the rivers.  Lighter materials like sand, silt and clay remained suspended in the river water and were carried downstream, while the heavier materials like rock and gravel (sedimentary rocks) were deposited on the riverbed.

Glaciolacustrine Deposits:  Sand, silt and clay deposited on the bottom of huge temporary lakes that formed either due to the melting glacial ice or by the blocking out of outlets for meltwater.  Sand, silt and clay remains suspended in fast-moving river water, but in slow-moving water such as lakes these fine materials are deposited.  These deposits are the foundation for some of the best agricultural lands in Alberta.

Gleysolic Soil:  A distinctive soil that results from being saturated with water for long periods of time.  This soil is not productive, and is unable to retain nutrients.

Green List: A list generated by the Alberta Wildlife Management Division that indicates the status of a species. Species are placed on the Green List when they are not considered to be at risk. Populations are stable and key habitats are generally secure.

Habitat:  The natural areas in which a plant or animal species live.

Heterotroph: An organism that depends for its nourishment on organic matter already produced by other organisms. All animals and fungi are heterotrophs. Parasitic plants and many bacteria also exhibit heterotrophism.

Herbivore: Any organism that eats only plant material. Herbivores are considered primary consumers in the food web and eat plants that absorb and store energy from the sun through photosynthesis. Carnivores, which are considered secondary or tertiary consumers prey upon herbivores.

Hibernacula:  A secure area, usually a cave or a den of some sort, used by hibernating animals while in  a state of torpor.  Most hibernacula are dark and secluded so as to keep the hibernating animal out of harms way from predators or human disturbance.

Hibernation:  Hibernation is a state of inactivity in an animal and may be viewed as a survival strategy that can be very successful in environments in which food is scarce or just difficult to find during a long, cold winter season. Dropping into deep hibernation or into a torpid state allows the animal to use their body's energy reserves at a slower rate than they would if they were maintaining themselves at their typical basal metabolic rate. Some ecologists refer to hibernation as "time migration". Hibernation allows the animal to skip over the cold, stressful seasons and only expend itself fully in those months of abundant food and moderate climatic conditions. A major disadvantage to hibernation, though, is that the hibernating animal is quite defenseless when it is in a deep hibernative or even torpid state. A very secure hibernating den (the "hibernaculum") is needed to protect the inactive animal.

Holocene Epoch:  The Holocene is the name given to the last 10,000 years of the Earth's history.  In Alberta, the Holocene encompasses the time since the last major glaciation or ice age.  Since then, there have been small-scale climate shifts, notably the Little Ice Age between about 1200 and 1700 A.D., but in general, the Holocene has been a relatively warm period since the last ice age. 

Humus:  The soft, moist, amorphous black or dark brown organic matter in soil derived from decaying plant and animal remains.  It provides nutrients for plants and can increase the soil's ability to hold water.

Invertebrate: Organisms that do not have a spinal cord covered by protective vertebrae. Invertebrates make up most of the animals on earth. Some examples include insects (arthropods), earthworms (annelids), and snails (molluscs).

Kingdom: The highest level in the classification hierarchy. Traditionally all organisms have been placed in either the plant (Plantae) or animal (Animalia) kingdoms but additional kingdoms have also been discovered or defined by scientists such as the Mycota Kingdom (mainly fungi), the Protista (unicellular organisms), as well as the Prokaryota and Eukaryota Kingdoms.

Krummholz vegetation:  Consists of a cluster of dwarfed and/or twisted trees found on high mountain slopes above or at the timberline.  Trees were deformed by wind and crushed by ice.  Many resemble flags as the branches grow away from the prevailing wind.  The growing season is short so Krummholz or elfinwood trees have an adapted system of regeneration.  They putout roots where the trees touch the ground and they reproduce by layering.

Lacustrine: Deposits accumulated in lakes or of lake origin are lacustrine.  They may be detrital or organic material as well as clays and silts.  These sediments abound in formerly glaciated areas of the lakes eventually drained, leaving the bottom sediments to form plains.  Lacustrine deposits are often found in plateau or mountain basins. 

Leachate:  A liquid that has percolated through solid waste or another medium and has extracted, dissolved, or suspended materials from it, which may include potentially harmful materials.  Leachate is of primary concern at municipal waste landfills.

Leaching:  The movement of liquid into another material.  It usually refers to liquids that leak our of waste disposal sites and contaminate soil and water.  The leached material is called leachate. Leaching is also a major soil forming process.  It leads to redistribution of material within the solum and horizon differentiation.

Limestone:  A sedimentary rock that consists primarily of calcium carbonate or calcite.  Limestone may be formed by either organic or inorganic processes.  Limestone is fossiliferous and represents ancient shell banks or coral reefs.

Loess: A clay, consisting of fine rock-flour (mainly quartz) that originates in arid regions and is transported by wind.

Luvisolic Soil:  Soil that has large organic but low humus content.  Nutrients are easily washed out of the topsoil and therefore this type of soil is not as productive as the Chernozems soils.  Luvisolic soil is common in the Boreal Forest natural region. 

Marsh:  An area of shallow open water, surrounded by aquatic vegetation like cattails, bulrushes, and sedges.  Marshes are very rich in nutrients.

Moraine: When a glacier moves forward, its weight and movement causes dirt, rocks and debris to be literally bulldozed along in front of it. Then as the glacier recedes, it leaves behind piles known as moraines. Lateral moraines flank the sides of glaciers while a terminal moraine marks the farthest glacial advance. 

Natural Region:  Land area that contains similar plant and animal species.  Natural regions are defined by the visible features of an area, while ecoregions are defined by environmental, geological and geographical factors.  Ecoregions and natural regions generally overlap, but are not the same.

Niche: The place and role occupied by an organism in a community, determined by its nutritional requirements, habit, etc. Different species may occupy a similar niche in different areas, for example, the grass species of the Australian grasslands, though different from those of the Albertan grasslands, occupy the same niche.  The same species may also occupy a different niche in different areas. The more adaptable the species the wider the niche it may occupy.

Order: A major category in the taxonomic hierarchy, usually comprised of groups of families thought to possess a degree of phylogenetic unity. Groups of similar orders are place in classes. The Latin names of order usually end with the suffix –ales.

Organic: Any material composed of living or once-living matter; composed of compounds mainly based on carbon, excluding carbon dioxide.

Organic Soil: A soil that is made up of mostly organic, natural material. Usually refers to peat.

Peat: An unconsolidated deposit of semicarbonized plant remains, generally found in a water shed environment such as a bog or a fen and is of high moisture content (at least 75%).  Peat is an early stage of the development of  coal and is comprised, usually, of approximately 60% carbon and 30% moisture-free oxygen.  When dried out, peat burns very easily.

Peatland:  An area of vegetated matter with extensive peat deposits.

Permafrost:  Land that remains at or below zero degrees Celsius continuously for at least 2 consecutive years.  Permafrost is not defined by soil moisture content, overlying snow cover, or location; but is defined solely by temperature. Permafrost may contain over 30 percent ice, or essentially no ice at all. It can be covered by several meters of snow, or be completely bare of snow. Underground, permafrost consists of frozen soils ranging from gravel to silt. Silty soil is composed of fine, powdery sedimentary particles. They possess great "wicking" capabilities that enable water to migrate and accumulate as large bodies of ice in the permanently frozen silt. Two main areas of permafrost are recognized. Permafrost areas which do not thaw at all during the year and permafrost areas whose upper layers thaw briefly during the warm season underlain by thicker layers which do not thaw even at mid-summer. 

Precipitation: Any form of water that falls to the ground from the sky as a result of the water cycle. It may take many different forms including snow, rain, sleet, hail, and combinations of all of the above. When a mass of warm, moist air hits a mass of cold air, condensation causes the moisture to form droplets that become rain or crystals that become snow, sleet, or hail. When these droplets or crystals become too heavy to be suspended in the atmosphere, they fall to earth as precipitation.

Predation:  An ecological term that refers to the capture and consumption of one living organism by another in order to sustain life.

Producer:  An organism that is the first stage in a food chain.  Producers generally include green plants and those bacteria that synthesize organic  molecules from inorganic materials by photosynthesis.  They are eaten by primary consumers.

Quartzite:  A very hard, unmetamorphized sandstone that consists primarily of quartz grains that have been cemented together with secondary silica so that the rock breaks across or through the grains rather than around them.

Red List: A list generated by the Alberta Wildlife Management Division that indicates the status of a species. Species are placed on the Red List when current knowledge suggests that these species are at risk. These species have declined, or are in immediate danger of declining, to nonviable population sizes.

Regosolic Soil:  Poorly developed soil that has a thin topsoil layer.  This soil does not retain nutrients well.  Incompletely eroded bedrock is found in large pieces in the soil.  This soil is common in the Rocky Mountains natural region.

Riparian:  An area of land along a stream, river or wetland.  The area is usually lush and important to wildlife.  They are protective buffers for animals and fish.

Sandstone:  A medium-grained sedimentary rock composed primarily of fragments of sand and silt or clay.  Sandstone may vary in colour and may be deposited by water or wind.

Sediment:  Solid, fragmental material that originates from the weathering of rocks and is transported or deposited by air, water or ice.

Sedimentary Rock:  A rock resulting from the  consolidation of loose sediment that has accumulated in layers.  Some forms of sedimentary rock are formed as chemical precipitates, such as salt and some forms of limestone.

Shale:  A fine-grained sedimentary rock formed by the consolidation of clay, silt, or mud.  It is characterized by finely laminated structure which imparts fissures parallel to the bedding along which the rock may easily break.  It may be red, brown, black or grey in colour.

Solonetz soil: A typical grassland soil usually found in a subhumid or semiarid climate under grass and shrub vegetation. 

Species: A group of organisms which resemble each other to a greater degree than members of other groups and which form a reproductively isolated group that will not normally breed with member of another group.  Similar species are grouped into genera, genera are grouped into families, families into orders, orders into classes, classes into phyla (for animals) and divisions (for plants), these are grouped into Kingdoms.

Subsoil:  A collective and general term for the layers of soil below the uppermost layer or topsoil.  It can consist of sand, silt and clay but has little, if any, humus or other organic matter.  Subsoil provides structure, holds moisture, and is a good foothold for rooting plants.

Succession:  A term that may refer to either plants or animals, succession is a progressive series of changes in the plant and animal life of a community from initial colonization to the establishment of a climax or final stage in which the plant or animal attains equilibrium with the environment.

Swamp:  Wetland area with a high water table that results in slow-moving, open water.  Nutrient content is high and, as a result,  dense vegetation consisting of deciduous shrubs and trees, as well as white and black spruce, cover the area.

Till:  The unsorted mixture of sediment carried or deposited by a glacier. Also known as "glacial drift".

Threatened Species: According to the Alberta Wildlife Act a species that is likely to become endangered if the factors causing its vulnerability are not reversed.

Topsoil: The uppermost layer of soil. Presumably fertile and cultivated by farmers.

Trophic Level:  The different stages of a food chain.  Organisms that are removed from the beginning of the chain by the same number of steps are said to occupy the same trophic level.

Ungulate:  The term ungulate is generally used to describe all hoofed mammals. It is broadly used as a practical, descriptive name that groups together six taxonomic orders - Tubulidentata, Hyracoidea, Proboscidea, Sirenia, Perissodactyla, and Artiodactyla. Hyracoidea, Proboscidea and Sirenia are often grouped together as paenungulates ("almost ungulates") as their feet have nail-hoofs instead of true hoofs. Ungulates have developed hoofs - specialized claws or toenails - as an adaptation for running. They are one of the most successful and diverse groups of mammals, having colonized nearly every habitat on all continents except Antarctica and Australia. Since the beginning of the 20th century, more new ungulate species have been discovered than any other type of large mammal. 

Vertebrate: Organisms that have a brain and a spinal cord that is surrounded by a protective set of bones and cartilages called vertebrae. Some examples of Vertebrates include most mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish.

Vulnerable Species: According to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada a vulnerable species is one that is of special concern because of characteristics that make it particularly sensitive to human activities or natural events.

Water Cycle:  The name to describe the way water is recycled in nature.  Water falls as rain or snow and then flows into rivers or lakes and some into the oceans.  Water returns to the air through evaporation and falls again as precipitation.  Also known as the Hydrologic Cycle.

Wetlands:  Lands saturated with water long enough that aquatic conditions such as poorly drained soils and aquatic vegetation develop.

Yellow List: A list generated by the Alberta Wildlife Management Division that indicates the status of a species. Species are placed on the Yellow list if they are considered species that are not currently at risk but may require special management to address concerns related to naturally low populations, limited provincial distributions, or demographic/life history features that make them vulnerable to human-related changes in the environment.

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