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Interior Dry and Mesic Forests: CPD Site SA21


Location:  Brazil's Federal District is a rectangular area in eastern central part of State of Goiás bordering State of Minas Gerais, at latitudes 15°31'-16°03'S and longitudes 47°02'-48°15'W.
5814 km².
750-1336 m.
Mosaic of many vegetation types, mostly in (1) forest habitats: gallery forests, mesophytic forests and woodland form of cerrado (cerradão); and (2) savanna habitats: gradient of decreasing tree density under generality of cerrado - cerrado denso, cerrado sensu stricto, campo cerrado, campo sujo de cerrado, campo limpo de cerrado; plus (3) localized formations such as seasonal and permanent marshes, veredas, campos de murunduns.
Very high diversity - at least 3000 species of vascular plants expected; few endemic and rare species.
Useful plants: 
Native fruits (trees and shrubs), medicinals, forage (grasses and legumes), ornamentals (e.g. for dried flower arrangements), genetic resources (especially trees).
Other values: 
Watershed protection for drinking water, hydroelectric energy and irrigation projects; high faunal diversity, including rare and threatened species.
Increasing population pressures, set fires, erosion, pollution, planned dam construction.
1 National Park, 3 Areas of Outstanding Ecological Interest (ARIEs), 5 Ecological Reserves, 3 Ecological Stations, 1 Biological Experiment Station, 5 Environmental Protection Zones (APAs).

Map 57: CPD Site SA21


The Distrito Federal (DF) (picture) is in the core area of the cerrado region. Brasília, the capital city of Brazil, is in the DF, which also encompasses seven satellite cities and additional settlements and rural communities. The DF is situated in the Brazilian Uplands on the Pratinha Plateau, east of the Planalto de Mato Grosso and Middle Massif of Goiás and west of the São Francisco Basin.

The area is an integral part of the central sector of the geological Tocantins province, and is composed of rocks of the Canastra Formation and Paranoá Group of Middle to Late Precambrian age, with a lateritic detritus cover of Tertiary-Quaternary age and recent Quaternary alluvial deposits (Barros 1990). The most extensive soil class is latosols, which occupy 54% of the region. The deep, well-drained latosols are restricted to essentially level terrain (slopes of less than 8%). They are associated with the cerrado sensu stricto (Haridasan 1990), and are the most extensively cultivated. Other soil types in the DF are dystrophic cambisols, podzols, hydromorphic soils, and very small areas of limestone-derived soils and limestone outcrops.

Hypsometric data indicate that the DF is 57% uplands above 1000 m (Novaes Pinto 1990a), which are a divider for the Paraná-La Plata, Tocantins-Amazon and São Francisco drainages. Because of the predominance of metamorphic rocks, aquifers are mainly fissural, in which each year about 1.2 billion m³ of water percolate (Barros 1990). These rocks act as impervious water tanks with special characteristics. The lentic environment is represented by small natural lakes (Lagoa Bonita, Lagoa Joaquim Medeiros, Lagoa Carás, Lagoa QL3 Norte), as well as three reservoirs (Descoberto, Santa Maria, Paranoá). The DF has four hydrographic basins: Descoberto, São Bartolomeu, Maranho and Preto. The first and second drain southward into La Plata Basin, the third northward into the Amazon Basin and the last eastward into the São Francisco Basin.

The climate in the cerrado region is tropical (Köppen's Aw). Mean annual precipitation generally varies from 1100 to 1600 mm, with c. 90% occurring in the warmer wet season (October-April); there is a marked dry season from May to September. The annual temperature averages from 18°-20°C, with July being 16°-18°C and September and October 20°-22°C.

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The DF has a mosaic of different vegetation types that can be put into two groups: forest and savanna. There are gallery forests, mesophytic forests, semi-deciduous forests, and "cerradão" (cerrado woodlands) (picture). Savanna ("cerrado") includes a gradient of decreasing density of trees: cerrado denso, cerrado sensu stricto, campo cerrado, campo sujo de cerrado and campo limpo de cerrado (Eiten 1972, 1990). The "campo limpo de cerrado" has no trees, being dominated by herbs (primarily grasses), with subshrubs and shrubs. Accessory vegetation types include seasonal marshes (wet campos), permanent marshes, "veredas" (swamps), campos de murunduns and a few rocky or litholic fields (Eiten 1990).

The vegetation is overwhelmingly dominated by cerrado sensu stricto (cerrado típico), which is floristically heterogeneous (Felfili and Silva 1993). Gallery forests occur along rivers and semi-deciduous forests on limestone-derived soils and limestone outcrops. Mesophytic forest and cerrado were once fairly common, but are now the rarest types of vegetation in the DF - because their soil is richer and more productive, they have been cleared and transformed into agricultural fields and pastures. A few tracts are in protected areas; those outside the conservation system face a bleak future.

The gallery forests are of two distinct types: swampy and dry. The swamp forest remains waterlogged all year; the dry forest is never waterlogged. Some key species characterize swampy gallery forests: Talauma ovata, Euterpe edulis, Geonoma schottiana and Mauritia vinifera - a palm which is also characteristic of veredas. The "veredas" (or "brejos") are ecologically very important because they are the headwaters of many watercourses. As they have surface water all year, they are oases critical to the survival of many species. Animals gather at veredas to drink during the driest months.

"Campos de murunduns" consist of areas with rounded earth mounds (murunduns) covered by woody cerrado plants, and between the mounds predominately grasses, sedges and Xyris spp. Mound height varies from 0.05-2 m and the mounds are generally semi-elliptical. Their origin appears to be related to drainage patterns and differential erosion (Araújo Neto et al. 1986).

The rocky and litholic fields resemble campo-rupestre areas. They are dominated by Vellozia spp., Lychnophora ericoides, Paepalanthus spp., Xyris spp. and Dyckia spp. These habitats occur in small patches amongst the general cerrado vegetation and are generally overlooked. Their flora is very different from the surrounding areas and their limited soil is rocky and sandy.

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The DF flora is only partially known. There is a checklist with 2500 native species of vascular plants (Filgueiras and Pereira 1990) but several areas have never been adequately surveyed; at least 3000 species are expected to occur. A project for an illustrated Flora is under way (Cavalcanti and Proença, pers. comm.). Extensive field collecting was carried out in 1992 and projected to continue in an effort to sample the remaining native vegetation.

Families with the largest number of species are Leguminosae, Gramineae (305 spp. - Filgueiras 1991), Compositae, Orchidaceae (233 spp. - Bianchetti et al. 1991), Rubiaceae, Myrtaceae and Melastomataceae. Genera especially diverse in species are Paspalum and Panicum (Gramineae), Habenaria (Orchidaceae), Vernonia (Compositae), Chamaecrista and Mimosa (Leguminosae), Miconia (Melastomataceae) and Hyptis (Labiatae).

Several endemic, rare or threatened species or populations are known. A single gymnosperm Podocarpus brasiliensis occurs in the DF, where it is considered threatened; only two small populations of this relict species have been found. Other examples of species rare in the DF are Wunderlichia mirabilis, Weinmannia organensis, Manihot anomala, Apoclada cannavieira (a single population), Arthropogon filifolius, Hymenolobium heringerianum, Lupinus insignis and Drimys winteri. Among the endemics are Calea heringeri, Panicum subtiramulosum, Hymenolobium heringerianum and Cedrela odorata var. xerogeiton. Lychnophora ericoides is threatened, even though three sizeable populations have been located, because it is over-exploited by those who collect and commercialize medicinal plants. The herbaceous bambusoid grasses Aulonemia aristulata and Pharus lappulaceus are common through their overall ranges, but only a single population of each has been found in the DF.

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Useful plants

Many useful plants occur in the DF. Most have been used traditionally, yet new uses are constantly being sought (Almeida, Silva and Ribeiro 1987). These plants fall into various categories: timber, charcoal, fibre, cork, food, forage, oil, honey, medicinal, tannin and ornamental.

A number of tree species are commercialized for their wood. Especially sought are Hymenaea spp., Blepharocalyx salicifolius (B. suaveolens), Ocotea spp., Pterodon pubescens, Copaifera langsdorffii and Calophyllum brasiliense. Most of the cerrado trees can produce good quality charcoal, which has become a quick source of income to farmers who own tracts of undisturbed cerrado. The collection and commercialization of wild plants for dried flower arrangements employs hundreds of people during the year.

Fruits of many tree species are harvested and sold in street fairs or local markets. Examples are "pequi" (Caryocar brasiliense), "mangabá" (Hancornia speciosa), "araticum" (Annona crassiflora) and "cagaita" (Eugenia dysenterica). Liqueurs and spirits of native fruit species can be found in any local market. Especially famous are the liqueurs made from pequi, "murici" (Byrsonima spp.) and "genipapo" (Genipa americana).

Medicinal plants are an important aspect of Brazilian culture, especially in rural areas. The number of medicinal plants is considered high in the cerrado in general (Siqueira 1981) and in the DF (Barros 1982). These plants (e.g. Lychnophora ericoides, Centrosema bracteosum, Pterodon pubescens, Anemopaegma arvense) are routinely collected for private use as well as sold both locally and elsewhere in the country.

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Social and environmental values

The Distrito Federal represents only 0.07% of Brazilian territory, but its political, social, cultural and economic importance is enormous. It is a melting pot for Brazilian culture, attracting people from all parts of the country. Besides permanent residents, Brasília also has a large fluctuating population of politicians, lobbyists and executives, who have temporary homes in the city and pay premium prices for top quality housing. Conservation issues in the DF are especially significant because what happens is likely to be regarded as a model for the entire cerrado region and perhaps the whole country. There is considerable pressure to create an industrial district that will generate numerous jobs, which will bring still more people.

The diversity of fauna recorded from the DF is quite high. In the cerrado region of Brazil there are c. 300 species of mammals; in the DF, notable species include 30 bats, four monkeys, several anteaters (including the giant anteater) and five cats. Over 400 species of birds are known from the DF, c. 200 of which are associated with the cerrado biome; c. 14 species are regionally endemic or rare. The threatened endemic bird known as the Brasília tapaculo (Scytalopus novacapitalis) survives locally in swampy gallery forest and dense streamside vegetation in the states of Goiás, the Distrito Federal and Minas Gerais. The DF has over 50 species of Lepidoptera (Rocha et al. 1990).

The area's diverse biological wealth has attracted the attention of a great number of scientists, to the extent that the DF is much better known than any other area in the cerrado region (Novaes Pinto 1990b; Dias 1990). The project Flora do Distrito Federal to prepare an illustrated Flora is led by local scientists who work in close cooperation with international botanical institutions.

The DF has a tradition of developing cooperative research programmes among different institutions, which has proven very effective in disciplines such as ecology. The following have a history of conducting joint research projects: Universidade de Brasília, EMBRAPA (Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuária), Reserva Ecológica do IBGE, Jardim Botânico de Brasília and SEMATEC (Secretaria do Meio Ambiente, Ciência e Tecnologia). Non-governmental organizations such as FUNATURA (Fundação Pró-Natureza) are also very active in promoting research and related activities.

Economic assessment

The DF has considerable economic activity. Commerce and services predominate, but agriculture also has an important role, especially for vegetables, fruits (oranges - Citrus) and recently soybeans (Glycine max) and dairy products. Although the cerrado soils are poor in some essential minerals (e.g. nitrogen, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium), they may become quite productive through technologies such as liming, fertilizing and the general use of pesticides.

Cattle production is carried out using native pasturage in the wet season; 135 grass species are of forage value (Filgueiras and Wechsler 1992; Filgueiras 1992). During the dry season, planted pastures supply the bulk of the forage (mostly Andropogon gayanus, Brachiaria spp., Hyparrhenia rufa, Panicum maximum). Several legume species (commonly Stylosanthes spp. and Leucaena spp.) are also planted in the pastures to increase their nutritional value.

Despite increasing environmental awareness, charcoal is still being produced in the DF and is very profitable. It has become a cash crop - yet no investment is needed and there is no risk. The farmer normally sells the raw material as a type of standing crop, i.e. the cerrado in its natural state; the woody plants are extracted and made into the charcoal, especially for use in the steel industry.

The flourishing business in wild plants for flower arrangements is a source of income for many families. In 1984 to the south-east in the region of Diamantina, Minas Gerais (within CPD Site SA20), 257 tonnes of dried plants were collected (Burman 1991). A sizeable portion of these plants is destined for international markets, especially in U.S.A. and Japan. As these resources are becoming scarce within the DF, collectors are slowly moving to other areas where the plants are still abundant.

The fruits of some native species are readily harvested and sell at a good price wherever they occur in reasonable quantities, e.g. Caryocar brasiliense, Annona crassiflora, Hancornia speciosa and Mauritia vinifera ("buriti"). Medicinal plants are gathered in the DF in large quantities and sold locally or exported to other areas (Goiás, Minas Gerais). The trade involves both untreated plants and liquid extracts from them ("garrafadas"). These medicinals can be purchased in any marketplace in Central Brazil; in the DF they are readily available in all open markets and in speciality shops.

Quarrying is restricted to extraction of limestone, gravel and sand. The limestone is converted into cement, which is the principal building material. Cement production is one of the major industrial activities in the DF. The gravel and sand are used in road construction and repair as well as building homes. There is increasing demand for gravel and sand in the area because Brasília and the satellite cities are growing rapidly. Thus major income for many families in operating their businesses depends on these public-land resources.

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The biggest threat to the biodiversity of the Distrito Federal is the steady increase of the human population. Brasília was projected to accommodate 500,000 people towards the year 2000. However in 1990, 30 years after its foundation, the city's population was over 1 million. The estimated DF population is now 2 million, which encompasses the satellite cities Ceilândia, Taguatinga, Guará I, Guará II, Núcleo Bandeirante, Sobradinho and Planaltina, as well as several settlements and many rural communities. New settlements appear every year through the DF - some legal, some illegal. Migration has become common because Brasília attracts people from all parts of the country looking for jobs, health facilities, schools and housing.

The shortage of water is already a problem and demand is growing with the population. In 1992 there were projects to build a new dam to store water for human consumption and generating electricity. The São Bartolomeu River has been selected not because of the quality of its water -it is simply the largest river available in the region. Plans exist to bring water from outside the DF in the near future, because very serious water shortages are projected. Drainage of wetland areas (especially veredas) for agriculture additionally threatens the water supply as well as this specialized vegetation. Water pollution and contamination (mostly from pesticides) already are major concerns. Farms in the Descoberto River Basin supply most of the vegetables consumed in the DF, but also contribute significantly to the pollution in the area.

The price of land in the DF is extremely high for Brazil. There is a chronic housing shortage mainly for those with low and middle incomes and tremendous pressure for new housing developments. Closed condominiums ("condomínios fechados") are appearing as a viable alternative for middle-class families; they are in rural and semi-rural areas on public and private lands. The condominiums are primarily situated in Áreas de Proteção Ambiental (APAs), making their establishment a serious threat to these legally conserved zones. As the condominiums were not included in the original plans for the DF, a battle was under way in 1992 to legalize them.

The classification as an APA can be misleading; it is a weak type of conservation unit. Entire neighbourhoods, large settlements, agriculture and some industries are found within such areas. The APA do Lago Paranoá can hardly be considered even semi-rural; it is heavily populated and includes the two most prestigous residential sections of Brasília, with large estates and country homes. The APA do Rio São Bartolomeu has become almost totally colonized by condominiums, small farms and new settlements. Consequently, the APAs at best should be considered as semi-rural or rural multiple-use zones rather than nature conservation units.

Additionally, various conservation units are becoming progressively isolated as they are surrounded by farms and settlements. The human influences on these areas are notable. Some of the problems are an increase in the number of human-provoked fires, illegal hunting and fishing, the presence of feral animals (dogs and cats), and weeds. Feral animals are a serious problem in Brasília National Park, where dog packs have been reported to prey on large mammals such as tapir, deer and capybara. Habitat alteration is a serious problem caused by weeds such as Melinis minutiflora, Panicum maximum, Andropogon gayanus, Hyparrhenia rufa and Brachiaria decumbens. These African grasses are commonly cultivated in the pastures but because of their aggressiveness, they invade conserved areas and compete with native species, sometimes eliminating them (Filgueiras 1989).

Fire is a serious threat, particularly to the conservation units. Human-provoked fires occur every year and some are very damaging to the animals and plants alike. A long-term cooperative project involving national and international scientists is assessing the effects of different fire regimes on the cerrado environment. The results of their research will help to establish management policies for conservation units throughout the region where fire has been a regular natural occurrence.

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The main conservation units in the DF are indicated in Table 59 (cf. Map 57) (SEMATEC and GDF 1992; Dias 1990). About 3.2% of the DF is in totally protected areas (which is higher than the c. 2.5% of the country as a whole). However, the entire range of the DF vegetation types is not conserved. For example, calcareous outcrops are not protected - they are aggressively exploited for their limestone. Also litholic fields and campos de murunduns are not adequately protected. Representative portions of these habitats should be legally and effectively preserved - while good areas still remain.

Three contiguous areas (Estação Ecológica do Jardim Botânico, Reserva Ecológica do IBGE, Estação Ecológica da Universidade de Brasília) within the APA Gama-Cabeça de Veado are the site of several ecological research projects, from floristic surveys to the effects of fire on plants, animals, soil and water. The Reserva Ecológica do IBGE is perhaps the best studied of all the DF conservation units (more than 30 theses and dissertations have been carried out), and it has the best data on flora (1700 species), fauna, soil, and fire practices. A management plan for this reserve was nearing completion in 1993.

Brasília National Park is the only conservation unit that has had a (preliminary) management plan, which is being revised by a team of experts. The APA de Cafuringa (which was created in 1988 but presently exists without protection) is particularly important ecologically because it links the park and the Chapada da Contagem, and thus plays a key role in preventing the park's isolation.

As a result of a symposium on alternatives for developing the cerrado region carried out by FUNATURA (Dias 1992), it was recommended to the federal government that the APA de Cafuringa, Brasília National Park, Estação Ecológica de Águas Emendadas, APA do Rio São Bartolomeu and APA Gama-Cabeça de Veado (totalling c. 1866 km²) be designated as a Biosphere Reserve, due to their biological significance as well as their economic, social, political and cultural values.

The government is making an effort to create new protected areas and responding to environmental groups and the local scientific community, which has a history of acting politically together with community leaders on important conservation matters. At least 8% of the Distrito Federal needs to be well preserved through legal protection and management of the best natural areas. The present goals are to bring new natural areas into conservation (e.g. the limestone outcrops, the litholic campos, the campos de murunduns) and to procure funds to assist the nature conservation units so that they may become a full reality rather than mainly existing legally. Financial support is urgently needed to provide the conservation units with the basic infrastructure to secure effective protection of biodiversity. This includes the purchase of some land and of equipment for fire control, construction of buildings and fences and hiring of forest guards and administrative personnel.

The urban population of Brasília is becoming increasingly aware of conservation issues. Environmental education is becoming very important in Brasília and several institutions are begining to develop their own programs to educate school children, teenagers and adults. Once available, these programs become very popular and much sought after especially by the school system. Ecology-related topics have a special appeal that intrigues and fascinates both younger and older generations. Special attention should be paid to the populations living around the conservation units. If well motivated and educated, they can have key roles in preserving the biodiversity of the areas they live near.

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Map 57. Distrito Federal, Brazil (CPD Site SA21) (after SEMATEC and GDF 1992)


Almeida, S.P., Silva, J.A. da and Ribeiro, J.F. (1987). Aproveitamento alimentar de espécies nativas dos cerrados: araticum, baru, cagaita e jatobá. Documentos 26, EMBRAPA-CPAC (Centro de Pesquisa Agropecuária dos Cerrados), Planaltina, D.F., Brazil.

Araújo Neto, M.D., Furley, P.A., Haridasan, M. and Johnson, C.E. (1986). The murunduns of the cerrado region of Central Brazil. Journal Trop. Ecol. 2: 17-35.

Barros, J.G.C. (1990). Caracterização geológica e hidrogeológica do Distrito Federal. In Novaes Pinto, M. (ed.), Cerrado: caracterização, ocupação e perspectivas. Editora Universidade de Brasília, Brasília. Pp. 257-275.

Barros, M.A.G. (1982). Flora medicinal do Distrito Federal. Brasil Florestal 12: 35-45.

Bianchetti, L., Batista, J.A.N., Salles, A.H., Maury, C.M.R.F. and Andrade, F.A.T. (1991). Contribuição ao conhecimento da família Orchidaceae no Distrito Federal – novas citações. In Rizzo, J.A. (ed.), Resumos dos trabalhos do Congresso Nacional de Botânica. Universidade Federal de Goiás, Goiânia. Pg. 384.

Burman, A.G. (1991). Saving Brazil's savannas. New Scientist 1758: 30-34.

Dias, B.F.S. (1990). Conservação da natureza no cerrado brasileiro. In Novaes Pinto, M. (ed.), Cerrado. Editora Universidade de Brasília, Brasília. Pp. 582-640.

Dias, B.F.S. (ed.) (1992). Alternativas de desenvolvimento dos cerrados: manejo e conservação dos recursos naturais renováveis. FUNATURA (Fundação Pró-Natureza); IBAMA (Instituto Brasileiro do Meio Ambiente e dos Recursos Naturais Renováveis), Brasília.

Eiten, G. (1972). The cerrado vegetation of Brazil. Bot. Review 38: 201-341.

Eiten, G. (1990). Vegetação do cerrado. In Novaes Pinto, M. (ed.), Cerrado. Editora Universidade de Brasília, Brasília. Pp. 9-65.

Felfili, J.M. and Silva Jr., M.C. da (1993). A comparative study of cerrado (sensu stricto) vegetation in Central Brazil. Journal Trop. Ecol. 9: 277-289.

Filgueiras, T.S. (1989). Africanas no Brasil: gramíneas introduzidas da África. Cadernos de Geociências 2: 41-46.

Filgueiras, T.S. (1991). A floristic analysis of the Gramineae of Brazil's Distrito Federal and a list of the species occurring in the area. Edinburgh Journal Bot. 48: 73-80.

Filgueiras, T.S. (1992). Gramíneas forrageiras nativas no Distrito Federal. Pesquisa Agropecuária Brasileira 27: 1103-1111.

Filgueiras, T.S. and Pereira, B.A.S. (1990). Flora do Distrito Federal. In Novaes Pinto, M. (ed.), Cerrado. Editora Universidade de Brasília, Brasília. Pp. 331-388.

Filgueiras, T.S. and Wechsler, F.S. (1992). Pastagens nativas. In Dias, B.F.S. (ed.), Alternativas de desenvolvimento dos cerrados: manejo e conservação dos recursos naturais renováveis. FUNATURA; IBAMA, Brasília. Pp. 47-49.

Haridasan, M. (1990). Solos do Distrito Federal. In Novaes Pinto, M. (ed.), Cerrado. Editora Universidade de Brasília, Brasília. Pp. 309-330.

Novaes Pinto, M. (1990a). Caracterização geomorfológica do Distrito Federal. In Novaes Pinto, M. (ed.), Cerrado. Editora Universidade de Brasília, Brasília. Pp. 277-308.

Novaes Pinto, M. (ed.) (1990b). Cerrado: caracterização, ocupação e perspectivas. Editora Universidade de Brasília, Brasília. 657 pp.

Rocha, I.R.D., Cavalcanti, R.B., Marinho Filho, J.S. and Kitayama, K. (1990). Fauna do Distrito Federal. In Novaes Pinto, M. (ed.), Cerrado. Editora Universidade de Brasília, Brasília. Pp. 389-411.

SEMATEC and GDF (1992). Mapa ambiental do Distrito Federal 92. Scale 1:150,000. Secretaria do Meio Ambiente, Ciência e Tecnologia (SEMATEC), IEMA ICT and Governo do Distrito Federal (GDF), Brasília.

Siqueira, J.C. de (1981). Utilização popular das plantas dos cerrados. Ed. Loyola, São Paulo.


This Data Sheet was written by Dr Tarciso S. Filgueiras [Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE), Caixa Postal 08-770, 70200-200 Brasília, D.F., Brazil].

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