Tag Archives: flatworms

Friday Fellow: Green-Banded Broodsac

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Parasites are very speciose, and I often feel that I’m not giving enough space for them here, especially when I bring you a flatworm, which is likely the group with the largest number of parasite species. So let’s talk about one today at last.

The first parasitic flatworm I am introducing to you is Leucochloridium paradoxum, the green-banded broodsac. It is a member of the flatworm group Trematoda, commonly known as flukes and, as all flukes, it has a complex life cycle.

Adults of the green-banded broodsac live in the intestine of various passerine birds of North America and Europe. The eggs they lay reach the environment through the bird’s feces and are eventually ingested by land snails of the genus Succinea.

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Adult individual of Leucochloridium paradoxum (left), an infected intermediate hose, a sail of the genus Succinea (center) and the sporocysts along the snail’s internal organs (right). Images not to scale. Extracted from http://medbiol.ru/medbiol/dog/0011a975.htm

Adults of Leucochloridium paradoxum are very similar to the adults of other species of the genus Leucochloridium, the main differences being seen in the larval stages. Inside the body of the snail, the eggs hatch into the first larval stage, the miracidium, which inside the snail’s digestive system develops into the next stage, the sporocyst.

The sporocyst has the form of a long and swollen sac (the broodsac, hence the common name) that is filled with many cercariae, which are the next larval stage. The sporocyst than migrates towards the snail’s eye tentacles, invading them and turning them into a swollen, colorful and pulsating structure that resembles a caterpillar. In this stage of infection, the poor snail is most likely blind and cannot avoid light as it normally does. As a result, it becomes exposed to birds that mistake it for a juicy caterpillar, eating it eagerly.

683px-succinea_mit_leucocholoridium

A poor snail of the species Succinea putris with a broodsac in its left eye stalk. There is only one terrible fate for this creature. Photo by Thomas Hahmann.*

When the snail is eaten, the sporocyst burst and the several cercariae are released. In the bird’s intestine, they develop into adults and restart the nightmarish cycle.

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References:

Rząd, I.; Hofsoe, R.; Panicz, R.; Nowakowski, J. K. (2014) Morphological and molecular characterization of adult worms of Leucochloridium paradoxum Carus, 1835 and L. perturbatum Pojmańska, 1969 (Digenea: Leucochloridiidae) from the great tit, Parus major L., 1758 and similarity with the sporocyst stages. Journal of Helminthology 88(4): 506-510. DOI: 10.1017/S0022149X13000291

Wikipedia. Leucochloridium paradoxum. Available at < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leucochloridium_paradoxum >. Access on March 8, 2018.

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Xenoturbella, a growing group of weirdoes

by Piter Kehoma Boll

You may never have heard of Xenoturbella, and I wouldn’t blame you. Despite being a fascinating feature of evolution, little is known about it and its magic has been hidden from most of us.

The first Xenoturbella was described in 1949 and named Xenoturbella bocki. At the time, it was considered a strange flatworm, hence its name, from Greek xenos, strange + turbella, from Turbellaria, free-living flatworms. Xenoturbella bocki is a marine animal measuring up to 3 cm in length and looking like a flat worm… a flatworm! Well, actually more like a folded worm, because its body has a series of folds running londitudinally that make it have a W shape in cross section.

Found in the cold waters around northern Europe, its body lacks a centralized nervous system, having only a net of neurons inside the epidermis. There are also no reproductive organs, neither anything similar to a kidney or any other organ beside a mouth and a gut and some structures on its surface.

For decades, X. bocki was the only species of Xenoturbella known to us. A second species was described in 1999 as X. westbladi, but molecular analyses revealed that it was the same species as X. bocki, so we continued having only one species. Thanks to molecular studies, we also figured out that Xenoturbella is not a flatworm at all, but belongs to a group of very primitive bilaterian animals, being closely related to another group of former flatworms, the acoelomorphs. Together, Xenoturbella and the acoelomorphs (a good name for a rock band, right?) form the group called Xenacoelomorpha.

xenoturbella_churro_rouse

Xenoturbella churro, “head” to the right. Photo by Greg Rouse.*

Forming its own phylum (or perhaps class if it is grouped in a single phylum with the acoelomorphs) named Xenoturbellida, X. bocki recently discovered that it is not alone in the world. In 2016, four new species were described from the waters of the Pacific Ocean near the coasts of Mexico and the USA, being named Xenoturbella monstrosa, X. churro, X. profunda and X. hollandorum. Considering the small size of X. bocki, some of them were monsters, especially X. monstrosa, which reaches 20 cm in length!

Four new species was quite a finding. The phylum suddenly was five times bigger than before. As someone particularly interested in obscure animal groups, especially those that once were members of the lovely phylum Plathyelminthes, I was very excited by this discovery, but I wasn’t expecting at all what happened after that.

xenoturbella_japonica

Photo of the only known specimen of Xenoturbella japonica until now. “Head” to the left. Credits to Nakano et al. (2017).*

In December 2017, one more species was found, this time on the other side of the Pacific, near Japan. Named Xenoturbella japonica, the fifth member of the Xenoturbella genus is very welcome. The new species was based on two specimens, an adult “female” specimen (are they hermaphrodites? I don’t think we can be sure about it yet…) and a juvenile specimen. One more exciting thing is that the juvenile may actually be yet another species! But we need more material to be sure.

You can read the article describing Xenoturbella japonica here.

See also: Acoelomorpha, a phylogenetic headache

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References:

Nakano, H.; MIyazawa, H.; Maeno, A.; Shiroishi, T.; Kakui, K.; Koyanagi, R.; Kanda, M.; Satoh, N.; Omori, A.; Kohtsuka, H. (2017) A new species of Xenoturbella from the western Pacific Ocean and the evolution of XenoturbellaBMC Evolutionary Biology17: 245. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12862-017-1080-2

Rouse, G.W.; Wilson N.G.; Carvajal, J.I.; Vrijenhoek, R.C. (2016) New deep-sea species of Xenoturbella and the position of Xenacoelomorpha. Nature, 530:94–7. doi:10.1038/nature16545.

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Friday Fellow: Duckweed Chain Flatworm

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Today we have one more flatworm in our team. It is part of the most bizarre group of flatworms, the so-called Catenulida. Our fellow is called Catenula lemnae, which I adapted as the “duckweed chain flatworm”.

The duckweed chain flatworm is a very small animal, measuring about 0.1 mm in width and about two or three times this size in length. It is found worldwide in freshwater lakes and ponds and is likely a complex of species, but more detailed studies are needed to make it clear. As other catenulids, it lives close to the substract, being considered a benthic animal, and feeds on other smaller organisms, such as small invertebrates and algae. It is usually a dominant species in the community of benthic microanimals, such as microturbellarians, in places where it is found.

796px-catenula_lemnae

A chain of several connected individuals (zooids) of Catenula lemnae. Photo by Christopher Laumer.*

The word catenula, meaning “little chain” in Latin, was given to these animals because of their peculiar way of vegetative reproduction. The organism frequently divides transversally close to the posterior end, giving rise to new organisms that are genetically identical to the original one. However, the new animals often remain connected to each other for a long time before splitting, and as this asexual reproduction continues, it eventually turn them into a chain of connected individuals (called zooids). This chain swims elegantly using its cilia as if it were a single individual.

Most recent studies mentioning the duckeed chain flatworm are simply surveys of the species composition of a certain area or broad phylogenetic studies on the catenulids or flatworms in general. Little is known about the ecology, behavior and population structuring of this species, unfortunately.

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References:

Braccini, J. A. L.; Leal-Zanchet, A. M. (2013)  Turbellarian assemblages in freshwater lagoons in southern Brazil. Invertebrate Biology132(4): 305–314. https://dx.doi.org/10.1111/ivb.12032

Marcus, E. (1945) Sôbre Catenulida brasileiros. Boletim da Faculdade de Filosofia, Ciências e Letras da Universidade de São Paulo, série Zoologia, 10: 3–113.

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The hammerhead flatworms: once a mess, now even messier

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Few people know that land planarians exist, but when they do, they most likely know the hammerhead flatworms, which comprise the subfamily Bipaliinae.

The hammerhead flatworms, or simply hammerhead worms, have this name because their head has lateral expansions that make them resemble a hammer, a shovel or a pickaxe. Take a look:

Bipalium_vagum

The “wandering hammerhead worm”, Bipalium vagum. Notice the peculiar head. Photo by flickr user budak.*

The Chinese knew the hammerhead worms at least since the 10th century, which is understandable, since they are distributed from Japan to Madagascar, including all southern and southeast Asia, as well as Indonesia, the Philippines and other archipelagos. The western world, however, first heard of them in 1857, when William Stimpson described the first species and put them in a genus called Bipalium, from Latin bi- (two) + pala (shovel), due to the head shape. One of them was the species Bipalium fuscatum, a Japanese species that is currently considered the type species of the genus.

800px-bipalium_fuscatum_by_head

Anterior region of Bipalium fuscatum, the “brownish hammerhead worm”. Photo by Wikimedia user 根川大橋.**

Two years later, in 1859, Ludwig K. Schmarda described one more species, this one from Sri Lanka, and, unaware of Stimpson’s paper, called the species Sphyrocephalus dendrophilus, erecting the new genus for it from Greek sphȳra (hammer) + kephalē (head).

Sphyrocephalus_dendrophilus

Drawings by Schmarda of Sphyrocephalus dendrophilus.

In the next year, 1860, Edward P. Wright did something similar and described some hammerhead worms from India and China, creating a new genus, Dunlopea, for them. The name was a homage to his friend A. Dunlop (whoever he was).

Dunlopea_grayia

Wright’s Drawing of Dunlopea grayia (now Diversibipalium grayi) from China.

Eventually those errors were perceived and all species were put in the genus Bipalium, along with several others described in the following years. All hammerhead worms were part of the genus Bipalium until 1896, when Ludwig von Graff decided to improve the classification and divided them into three genera:

1. Bipalium: With a head having long “ears”, a well developed head.
2. Placocephalus (“plate head”): With a more semicircular head.
3. Perocephalus (“mutilated head”): With a shorter, rudimentary head, almost as if it had been cut off.

Bipaliids

Compare the heads of typical species of Bipalium (left), Placocephalus (center) and Perocephalus (right), according to Graff.

This system, however, was soon abandoned and everything went back to be simply Bipalium and continued that way for almost a century, changing again only in 1998, when Kawakatsu and his friends started to mess with the penises of the hammerhead worms.

First, in 1998, they erected the genus Novibipalium (“new Bipalium“) for species with a reduced or absent penis papilla, and retained in Bipalium those with a “well”-developed penis papilla. It is worth noticing though that this well-developed papilla is not much bigger than a reduced papilla in Novibipalium. In both genera the actual, functional penis is formed by a set of folds in the male atrium and not by the penis papilla itself as in other land planarians that have a penis papilla.

Later, in 2001, Ogren & Sluys separated some more species of Bipalium in a new genus called Humbertium (after Aloïs Humbert, who described most species of this new genus). They were separated from Bipalium because the ovovitelloducts (the ducts that conduct the eggs and vitellocites) enter the female atrium from ahead, and not from behind as in the typical Bipalium. This separation is, in my opinion, more reasonable than the previous one.

Now we had three genera of hammerhead worms based on their internal anatomy, but several species were described without any knowledge of their sexual organs. Thus, in 2002, Kawakatsu and his friends created one more genus, Diversibipalium (the “diverse Bipalium“) to include all species whose anatomy of the sexual organs was unknown. In other words, it is a “wastebasket” genus to place them until they are better studied.

Are these three genera, Bipalium, Novibipalium and Humbertium, as now defined, natural? We still don’t know, but I bet they are not. A good way to check it would be by using molecular phylogeny, but we don’t have people working with these animals in their natural habitats, so we do not have available material for that. Another thing that can give us a hint is to look at their geographical distribution. We can assume that genetically similar species, especially of organisms with such a low dispersal ability as land planarians, all occur in the same geographical region, right? So where do we find species of each genus? Let’s see:

Bipalium: Indonesia, Japan, China, Korea, India.

Novibipalium: Japan.

Humbertium: Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Southern India, Indonesia.

Weird, right? They are completely mixed and covering a huge area of the planet, especially when we consider Humbertium. We can see a tendency, but nothing very clear.

Fortunately, some molecular analyses were published (see Mazza et al. (2016) in the references). One, which included the species Bipalium kewense, B. nobile, B. adventitium, Novibipalium venosum and Diversibipalium multilineatum placed Diversibipalium multilineatum very close to Bipalium nobile, and they are in fact very similar, so I guess that we can transfer it from Diversibipalium to Bipalium, right? Similary, Novibipalium venosum appears mixed with the species of Bipalium. I guess this is kind of messing things up one more time.

681px-bipalia_invasive

Head of some species of Bipalium, including the ones used in the study cited above. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a photo or drawing of Novibipalium venosum. Image by myself, Piter Kehoma Boll.**

Interestingly, among the analyzed species, the most divergent was Bipalium adventitium, whose head is “blunter” than that of the other ones. Could the head be the answer, afterall? Let’s hope that someone with the necessary resources is willing to solve this mess soon.

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See also:

Once found and then forgotten: the not-so-bright side of taxonomy.

The lack of taxonomists and its consequences on ecology.

They only care if you are cute. How charisma harms biodiversity.

The faboulous taxonomic adventure of the genus Geoplana.

Darwin’s Planaria elegans: hidden, extinct or misidentified?

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References:

Graff, L. v. (1896) Über das System und die geographische Verbreitung der Landplanarien. Verhandlungen der Deutschen Zoologischen Gesellschaft6: 61–75.

Graff, L. v. (1899) Monographie der Turbellarien. II. Tricladida Terricola (Landplanarien). Engelmann, Leipzig.

Kawakatsu, M.; Ogren, R. E.; Froehlich, E. M. (1998) The taxonomic revision of several homonyms in the genus Bipalium, family Bipaliidae (Turbellaria, Seriata, Tricladida, Terricola). The Bulletin of Fuji Women’s College Series 236: 83–93.

Kawakatsu, M.; Ogren, R. E.; Froehlich, E. M., Sasaki, G.-Y. (2002) Additions and corrections of the previous land planarians indices of the world (Turbellaria, Seriata, Tricladida, Terricola). The bulletin of Fuji Women’s University. Ser. II40: 162–177.

Mazza, G.; Menchetti, M.; Sluys, R.; Solà, E.; Riutort, M.; Tricarico, E.; Justine, J.-L.; Cavigioli, L.; Mori, E. (2016) First report of the land planarian Diversibipalium multilineatum (Makino & Shirasawa, 1983) (Platyhelminthes, Tricladida, Continenticola) in Europe. Zootaxa4067(5): 577–580.

Ogren, R. E.; Sluys, R. (2001) The genus Humbertium gen. nov., a new taxon of the land planarian family Bipaliidae (Tricladida, Terricola). Belgian Journal of Zoology131: 201–204.

Schmarda, L. K. (1859) Neue Wirbellose Thiere beobachtet und gesammelt auf einer Reise um die Erde 1853 bis 1857 1. Turbellarien, Rotatorien und Anneliden. Erste Hälfte. Wilhelm Engelmann, Leipzig.

Stimpson, W. (1857) Prodromus descriptionis animalium evertebratorum quæ in Expeditione ad Oceanum, Pacificum Septentrionalem a Republica Federata missa, Johanne Rodgers Duce, observavit er descripsit. Pars I. Turbellaria Dendrocœla. Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia9: 19–31.

Wright, E. P. (1860) Notes on Dunlopea. Annals and Magazine of Natural History, 3rd ser.6: 54–56.

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Land snails on islands: fascinating diversity, worrying vulnerability

by Piter Kehoma Boll

The class Gastropoda, which includes snails and slugs, is only beaten by the insects in number of species worldwide, having currently about 80 thousand described species. Among those, about 24 thousand live on land, where they are a very successful group, especially on oceanic islands.

The Hawaiian Islands alone, for example, have more than 750 snail species and there are more than 100 endemic species in the small island of Rapa in the South Pacific. This diversity is much higher than that in any continental place, but the reason for that is not completely understood.

Mandarina

A land snail of the genus Mandarina, endemic to the Ogasawara Islands, Japan. Photo by flickr user kmkmks (Kumiko).*

One of the most likely explanations for this huge diversity on islands is related to the lack of predators. The most common predators of snails include birds, mammals, snakes, beetles, flatworms and other snails. Most of those are not present in small and isolated islands, which allows an increase in land snail populations in such places. Without too much dangers to worry about, the community of land snails n islands can explore a greater range of niches, eventually leading to speciation.

Unfortunately, as always, the lack of danger leads to recklessness. Without predators to worry about, insular land snails tend to lay fewer eggs than their mainland relatives. If there is no danger of having most of your children eaten, why would you have that many? It is better to lay larger eggs, putting more resources on fewer babies, and so assure that they will be strong enough to fight against other snail species. Afterall, the large number of species in such a small place as an island likely leads to an increased amount of competition between species.

But why is this recklessness? Well, because you never known when a predator will arrive. And they already arrived… due to our fault.

The diversity of insular land nails was certainly affected by habitat loss promoted by humans, but also by predators that we carried with us to the islands, whether intentionally or not. These predators include rats, the predatory snail Euglandina rosea and the land flatworm Platydemus manokwari, the latter being most likely the worst of all.

800px-platydemus_manokwari

The flatworm Platydemus manokwari in the Ogasawara Islands. Photo by Shinji Sugiura.

This flatworm arrived at the Chichijima Island, part of the Ogasawara Islands in the Pacific Ocean, in the early 1990s and in about two decades it led most land snail species on the island to extinction and many more are about to face the same fate on this island and on others. Not being prepared for predators, these poor snails cannot reproduce fast enough to replace all individuals eaten by the flatworm.

We have to act quickly if we want to save those that are still left.

See also: The New Guinea flatworm visits France – a menace.

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ResearchBlogging.orgReferences and further reading:

Chiba, S., & Cowie, R. (2016). Evolution and Extinction of Land Snails on Oceanic Islands. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, 47 (1), 123-141 DOI: 10.1146/annurev-ecolsys-112414-054331

Sugiura, S., Okochi, I., & Tamada, H. (2006). High Predation Pressure by an Introduced Flatworm on Land Snails on the Oceanic Ogasawara Islands. Biotropica, 38 (5), 700-703 DOI: 10.1111/j.1744-7429.2006.00196.x

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Friday Fellow: Persian Carpet Flatworm

ResearchBlogging.orgby Piter Kehoma Boll

A flatworm again, at last! Not a land planarian, but a flatworm nonetheless.

If there is a group of flatworms that may put land planarians in second plan regarding beauty, those are the polyclads. Living in the sea, especially in coral reefs, polyclads are colorful and curly and may be mistaken by sea slugs.

The species I’m introducing here today is Pseudobiceros bedfordi, commonly known as the Persian carpet flatworm or Bedford’s flatworm. It is about 8 cm long and lives in coral reefs along Australia, Indonesia, Philippines and adjacent areas. See how beautiful it is:

A flatworm (Pseudobiceros bedfordi). Raging Horn, Osprey Reef, Coral Sea

The Persian carpet flatworm with its beautiful colors. Photo by Richard Ling.*

The colorful pattern of this and many other polyclad species is likely a warning about their toxicity, although there are few studies regarding toxicity in these animals. Being active predators, polyclads may use their toxins as a way to subdue prey as well.

But the most interesting thing regarding the Persian carpet flatworm is its sexual behavior. As with most flatworms, they are hermaphrodites, so when two individuals meet and decide to have sex, they have to choose whether they want to play the male or the female role (or both). Unfortunately, most individuals prefer to be males, so those encounters usually end up in a violent fight in which both animals attack the partner with a double penis, a behavior known as penis fencing.

mating_pseudobiceros_bedfordi

Two Persian carpet flatworms about to engage in penis fencing. Photo from Whitfield (2004), courtesy of Nico Michiels.**

At the end, the winner spurts its sperm onto the partner and leaves. The horrible part is yet to come, though. The sperm appears to be able to burn like acid through the receiver’s skin tissue in order to reach the inner tissues and thus swim towards the eggs. In some extreme cases the sperm load may be high enough to tore the receiver into pieces! If that’s not a good definition of wild sex, I don’t know what is.

See also: Gender Conflict: Who’s the man in the relationship?

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References:

Whitfield, J. (2004). Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sexes PLoS Biology, 2 (6) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.0020183

Wikipedia. Pseudoceros bedfordi. Available at: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pseudobiceros_bedfordi&gt;. Access on November 24, 2016.

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Obama invades Europe: “Yes, we can!”

ResearchBlogging.orgby Piter Kehoma Boll

This information was known by me and some other people for quite a while, but only recently has caught attention of the general public. Obama is the newest threat in Europe.

No, I’m not talking about the president of the United States. I’m talking about a land flatworm whose name is  Obama nungara.

obama_marmorata_7

This is the magnificent Obama nungara. This specimen is from Brazil and looks particulary yellowish due to the strong light of the camera flash. Photo by Piter Kehoma Boll.*

It has been a while since a new invasive land flatworm started to appear in gardens of Europe, especially in Spain and France and eventually elsewhere, such as in the United Kingdom. It was quickly identified as being a Neotropical land planarian and posteriorly as belonging to the genus Obama, whose name has nothing to do with Barack Obama, but is rather a combination of the Tupi words oba (leaf) and ma (animal) as a reference to the worm’s shape.

obama_nungara

When you find Obama nungara in your garden, it will look much darker, like this one found in the UK. Photo by buglife.org.uk

At first it was thought that the planarian belonged to the species Obama marmorata, a species that is native from southern Brazil, but molecular and morphological analyses revealed it to be a new species. Actually, much of what was called Obama marmorata in Brazil was this new species. Thus, it was named nungara, which means “similar” in Tupi, due to its similarity with Obama marmorata.

obama_marmorata

This is Obama marmorata, the species that O. nungara was originally mistaken for. Photo by Fernando Carbayo.**

Measuring about 5 cm in length, sometimes a little more or a little less, O. nungara is currently known to feed on earthworms, snails, slugs and even other land planarians. Its impact on the European fauna is, however, still unknown, but the British charitable organization Buglife decided to spread an alert and many news websites seem to have loved the flatworm’s name and suddenly a flatworm is becoming famous.

Who said flatworms cannot be under the spotlight? Yes, they can!

See also: The Ladislau’s flatworm, a cousin of Obama nungara.

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References:

Álvarez-Presas, M., Mateos, E., Tudó, À., Jones, H., & Riutort, M. (2014). Diversity of introduced terrestrial flatworms in the Iberian Peninsula: a cautionary tale PeerJ, 2 DOI: 10.7717/peerj.430

Boll, P., & Leal-Zanchet, A. (2016). Preference for different prey allows the coexistence of several land planarians in areas of the Atlantic Forest Zoology, 119 (3), 162-168 DOI: 10.1016/j.zool.2016.04.002

Carbayo, F., Álvarez-Presas, M., Jones, H., & Riutort, M. (2016). The true identity of Obama (Platyhelminthes: Geoplanidae) flatworm spreading across Europe Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 177 (1), 5-28 DOI: 10.1111/zoj.12358

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