Citizen science: Osa communities partner with scientists to reveal answers to nature’s mysteries

Blogpost by Marco Hidalgo-Chaverri, Coordinator of the Ecosystem Resilience and Community Outreach Program

Citizen science is the participation of the general public in scientific research activities. Citizens contribute actively, either through active monitoring or with local knowledge of their environment. This different way of doing science contributes to scientific knowledge through the participation of volunteer and trained citizens who are not usually specialists in the subject to be investigated and who contribute to help solve questions raised in scientific studies.

Community Biological Monitoring Group of Rancho Quemado, training with the Healthy Rivers Program at Osa Conservation. Photo: Marco Hidalgo

It is not a new way of doing science. In fact, it has existed for centuries, since the very beginning of science—from the contributions made by astronomers, to the observation of birds in remote parts of the world.

Citizen science projects allow the public, through their own experience, to understand how scientific research is carried out. Participants find that the process of doing science arises from observation and methods for data collection. People are adequately trained in a non-formal setting, contribute to the collection of data, and—if their curiosity catches on—they might even start their own research.

Coati (Nasua narica) photograph taken to be used in the App iNaturalist. Photo: Marco Hidalgo

These meetings of participation constitute an alliance between scientists and the general public, forming a great work team, answering the great questions about Earth’s biodiversity.

With this goal in mind, Osa Conservation is supporting the Community Biological Monitoring Groups formed in the Osa Peninsula. We are sharing experiences with organized groups in the communities of Rancho Quemado, Dos Brazos del Rio Tigre, Los Planes of Drake and the Alto Laguna Indigenous Territory. With these groups, we are working on the collaborative construction of knowledge through the Osa Camera Trap Network, who lead the collection of data and assist in data analysis. At Osa Conservation, we believe that the participation of communities to support the monitoring of spatio-temporal trends of biodiversity has special importance in the fight to prevent and stop the loss of flora and fauna species that are susceptible to small environmental changes.

Showing the children of the Osa Peninsula fauna in danger of extinction. Photo: Marco Hidalgo

The children of the Osa Peninsula have not been left out in this participatory contribution. Year after year, we have been supporting the Christmas Children’s Bird Count, which is a form of social appropriation of science like no other, since the students of schools and colleges become the main actors of this knowledge construction. The key to this initiative is to take science as an attitude and have the ability to marvel and generate questions with the things or situations we face every day. Our children find a magic in the birds and biodiversity that surrounds them. This information helps analyze traces of climate change and observe climatic phenomena, and these are the same students who will live the solutions.

Community Biological Monitoring Group of Rancho Quemado, visiting the Sea Turtle Program at Osa Conservation. Photo: Marco Hidalgo

In support of this effort of Citizen Science, Osa Conservation is promoting the use of global social networks, which are used by people who like to share images of the nature of the region. We are recommending the iNaturalistapplication, a technological tool that connects people with nature to build participatory citizen science, in order to understand the situation populations of our flora and fauna and the changes that affect different ecosystems. If you or members of your community want to be part of this great effort, you can contact us, and support us to create knowledge.


Osa Conservation’s hidden treasures

Blotpost by Sophie Blow, General Volunteer

I came to Osa Conservation as a volunteer as part of my year abroad from university to improve my Spanish. I study French, Spanish and Portuguese at Warwick University in the UK and I couldn’t think of anywhere better to immerse myself in a different culture and way of life, while improving my Spanish at the same time, than the beautiful Osa Peninsula. During my spare time as a volunteer, I try to explore the site as much as I can, to discover what’s hidden in and around my new home.

Here are my four favourite spots around the Osa Conservation site to immerse myself in the breath-taking nature that surrounds me on a daily basis:

  • The rocks at sunset

Behind the plots of the finca lies the perfect hideaway for looking out over the ocean during sunset. Whether I fancy a dip in the rock pools, doing some yoga as the sun falls or having some quiet time to reenergise after a busy day, the rocks is the tranquil setting I head to. 

  • The beach at sunrise

A 4:30 wake-up call for morning patrol along Piro beach can be difficult for me to stomach, but once I see the vivid paint strokes of deep reds and burnt oranges illuminating the morning sky, I know I made the right decision not to snooze my alarm. 

  • Cerra Osa at sunset

Cerro Osa might seem like a bit of a trek to watch the sunset, but once I sit on the patio, you’ll understand the beauty of this remote location. There’s no better way to watch the sunset than sat on the rocking chairs, everyone in stunned silence by the amazing site that fills the sky. Overlooking a clearing filled with thousands of trees, it’s hard to find a better viewpoint to watch the blazing reds of an Osa Peninsula sunset. 

  • The bat roost on the Ajo trail

Osa Conservation site boasts many trails through the primary forest for you to explore. If you decide to delve deeper into your surroundings, put the bat roost on the Ajo at the top of your Osa bucket list. In one of the biggest and oldest trees on the trail, a small opening at the base of the tree opens up a whole new world for you to discover. Nestled away inside hides hundreds of frog eating bats that have made this ancient treasure their home. 


National Science Foundation funds new laboratory at our Osa Verde BioStation

Blog post by Hilary Brumberg, Healthy Rivers Program Coordinator

Osa Conservation was recently awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to improve the research facilities, communication and equipment at our Osa Verde Biological Station (Piro), which will position this field station to become a leading center for tropical research, education and conservation. With this new infrastructure, we will increase our capacity to host interdisciplinary researchers, academic groups, and citizen science trainings, therefore advancing scientific knowledge about tropical ecology and enhancing scientific literacy

Location of new NSF-funded laboratory at Osa Verde BioStation. Construction will begin next month.

We are excited to further support the active researchers and education groups visiting Osa Verde BioStation, by providing them with separate, dedicated laboratory and classroom spaces. With the NSF support, we will: 1) Create a dedicated laboratory space, 2) improve electrical power and communications, and 3) outfit the lab with basic wet and dry lab equipment. Meanwhile, the existing lab will become a dedicated educational space for school groups, volunteers, and citizen scientists.

Construction of the new lab begins next month and is estimated to be completed this summer, as will the upgrades to the electrical and communication systems. The following year, the lab equipment and software will be installed. 

These facilities will catalyze innovative and high-quality ecological research, hands-on education and training, and impactful research-based applied conservation. Osa Conservation is fortunate to be collaborating with a dedicated, diverse group of researchers and educational groups who have been visiting the Osa for over a decade to study and conserve its incredible biodiversity. Here’s how a few of them describe how the new research facilities will impact their research and teaching:  

Dr. Andy McCollum

“I have been bringing undergraduate students to the ‘Piro’ Biological Station, now the Osa Verde Biological Station, every year since 2011. For me – and I think for my students – Osa Verde is already an amazing place. My students have been able to learn about conservation practice by working together with Osa Conservation staff and to conduct their own small research projects on a broad range of biodiversity from fungi to sea turtles, big cats to stream invertebrates, monkeys to dung beetles, and herpetofauna to coarse woody debris (and herpetofauna IN coarse woody debris!). The extraordinary biodiversity and breadth of habitats encompassed from the beach up though the farm, secondary forest, and into the primary forest is unexcelled anywhere I have been in Costa Rica … So while I love Osa Verde as it is and has been, I am truly excited about the pending improvement to the infrastructure – a new climate controlled laboratory with basic biological and chemical analytic tools, including DI water (OK, this alone is a big improvement!), compound and stereo microscopes with image capture, electronic balances, hotplate/stirrer, glassware, autoclave, and even a laminar flow hood … If you have never been to Piro, I recommend you give it a look!”

Dr. Andy McCollum, Professor of Biology, Cornell College

Dr. Eben Broadbent & Dr. Angelica Almeyda Zambrano

“The expanded Piro [Osa Verde] station represents the best biological field station on the Osa, in an environment with ease of access to old growth forests, secondary stands, and dynamic fragmented restoration areas. It greatly enhances and expands our ability to pose and address questions of importance throughout the globe, in a safe environment suitable to seasoned field scientists and undergraduate students alike. I applaud NSF investment into Piro [Osa Verde Biological Station] and the Osa, and look forward to using this resource in the future.”

Dr. Eben Broadbent, Co-Director of Spatial Ecology Lab, Assistant Professor of Forest Ecology and Geomatics, University of Florida

“The Osa is much like the Amazon or the Tropics in general, with all the rich biodiversity, grand carbon dense complex forests, and unique species. It also has the myriad land uses, anthropogenic impacts including deforestation, illegal logging and mining, and poaching, and socio-economic challenges. As much as the Osa is a jewel worthy of conserving, it is also an outstanding opportunity to study conservation and sustainability science on a manageable spatial scale, but with full opportunity to scale lessons to global implication. We have been researching in the Osa for over two decades, and we are excited to see the enhanced facilities increase the capacity for high-level research in this incredible place.”

Dr. Angelica Almeyda Zambrano, Co-Director of Spatial Ecology Lab, Assistant Professor of Tourism, Recreation and Sport Management, University of Florida

Dr. Mark Laidre

“Receiving this NSF grant is awesome news! It’s also a recognition of the important role that Osa Conservation serves as a premier field station for cutting-edge tropical research. Having returned to this station each year for over a decade, and also having contributed to the initial version of this grant, I am especially excited about the wonderful opportunities these new funding resources will provide for so many researchers, including continued animal behavior research spanning field and lab by my students and I. We look forward to much more future research in Osa!”

Dr. Mark Laidre, Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences, Dartmouth College

Brandon Güell

“The new NSF-funded lab facilities at Osa Conservation will greatly benefit our continued research by providing new ample space to conduct experiments and observations on our sensitive study species, as well as a place to preserve and store invaluable specimens. By adding new wet lab resources and air-conditioned rooms, Osa Conservation is allowing us to broaden the scope of our research and ability in how we ask questions about how and why reproductive strategies, development, and the environment effect embryo behavior and survival.”

Brandon Güell, NSF Pre-doctoral Fellow and Ph.D. Student, Boston University


A big thanks to volunteers

Blogpost by Mariam Weyand, Sea Turtle Biologist

Osa Conservation relies on the help and support of volunteers to maximize our conservation impact, like many non-profits. Fortunately, we have diverse people coming to discover, help and get involved in our programs. We can separate them into two important groups: short term participants, such as students, families and tourists, and long-term volunteers.

In 2018, we had the luck that many individuals came and helped us with field work in the Sea Turtle Program. They all came to discover the great experience and hard work of relocating sea turtle nests and releasing neonates. They all helped a lot, and I would like to thank them all in this blog, because, after all, what would we do without them?

Volunteers from UNED helping Mariam Weyand and the rest of the Sea Turtle team to reinforce the protective bamboo wall against the strong high tide by filling bags with sand behind it.

Here an example of the great work they did in 2018:

We really enjoy working with groups of volunteers and students, such as World Challenge, UCR (University of Costa Rica) and UNED (State University at Distance). Thanks to their help, we have been able to build a new hatchery! They first filtered the sand on the whole surface of the future building, then built the structure and reinforced it when needed by filling bags with sand behind the protective bamboo wall. They also participated in daily patrols, hatchling releases and beach clean ups.  Every helping hand really counts!

The long-term volunteers, like the groups, participated in many of the other projects at Osa Conservation and were a huge help to each program. The additional manpower they provided to the Sea Turtle Program allowed us to split into two teams, and perform double the amount of work! Moreover, each one shared their own knowledge to improve the different aspects of the projects. At the end of their stay, it was like saying goodbye to full-time team members.

Volunteers from UNED helping the Sea Turtle team to reinforce the protective bamboo wall by pushing a trunk in front of it. Without all of them, we wouldn’t have been able to do it.

Each and every volunteer did a great job at giving a hand in the day-to-day activities. By sharing their energy and knowledge, they participated in the constant improvement of the organization.

So, on behalf of the Osa Conservation Sea Turtle Team, THANK YOU everyone for your help! We hope that we will have the pleasure of working with you again and the opportunity to meet more amazing and dedicated people like you!

Dedicated to Pablo Rodriguez who was an exceptional UNED volunteer. May he rest in peace.


Connecting hammerhead shark populations from the Eastern Tropical Pacific

Blogpost by Mariana Elizondo Sancho, Álvaro Ugalde grant awardee

Sphyrna lewiniis one of the nine species of hammerhead sharks, and it lives across the tropics worldwide. This species is categorized as Endangered, since its populations have declined more than 50% in the last 10 years, according to the IUCN. This shark is threatened by fisheries, both as bycatch and as directed fishing, since their fins are highly valued in the international fin market. 

Hammerhead shark school in the open waters from Cocos Island in the Pacific of Costa Rica. Photo: David Garcia

This shark has an interesting behavior in which females come to coastal waters called nursery areas to deliver their pups. Juveniles remain in these areas for their first years, so coastal marshes and wetlands are an important habitat for their nurturing. In Costa Rica, these areas are threatened both by habitat degradation and by fisheries. One of the most important nursery areas is the Golfo Dulce in the southern pacific of Costa Rica. 

After this first stage of life, adults move to open waters and islands, where constant migration is observed. Once in open waters and near the Cocos Island, this shark is specifically targeted for its fins. Protecting this highly mobile animal that can migrate long distances is a hard task since its populations are not in a specific geographic place during their whole lifetime. 

Also in the Eastern Tropical Pacific, population structure is not well known. Is it one population or are there several? Do females prefer specific nursing grounds to deliver their pups? Understanding population structure and movements of hammerhead sharks is vital to establish regional management and policies.

DNA extraction of hammerhead shark tissue. Photo: Mariana Elizondo

I have been researching the connectivity and genetic population structure of S. lewiniin various coastal nursing areas in Guatemala, Costa Rica and Panamá. The results of this research will be important to provide biological information for management plans that will aim to protect specific important geographical areas for this species’ persistence.


Necesitamos una transformación cultural permanente para la cacería de la vida silvestre en la Península de Osa

Blog por Marco Hidalgo, coordinador del programa de resiliencia del ecosistema y alcance comunitario

La cacería de animales silvestres, en el caso de la Península de Osa, tiene claras características para ser considerada como un elemento cultural de las personas que la practican. Estas características se cumplen mayormente con quienes practican el monteo y con quienes cazan exclusivamente para consumir la carne. La gran mayoría de estos casos ya no se considera una práctica, sino una costumbre o tradición. Pero esta valoración de elemento cultural no es válido para otros tipos de cacería, por ejemplo, hay quienes cazan, venden la carne o quienes lo hacen como “deporte”, pues median otras razones, que nada tienen que ver con arraigo o costumbre, como es el uso de la carne para negocio o la utilización de la cacería como una manera de canalizar “gustos” como el uso de armas o el solo “placer” de matar animales indiscriminadamente.

Investigaciones en la Península de Osa dan una razón social para entender que la cacería de fauna silvestres es de autoconsumo y no de subsistencia, ya que no es la principal fuente de proteínas,  aunque los mamíferos, tepezcuintle (Cuniculus paca), chancho de monte o chancho cariblanco (Tayassu pecari) y saíno (Pecari Tajacu), son los más cazados.

Los perros son un componente importante para la actividadad de la caceria. Foto: Marco Hidalgo-Chaverri

El protagonista principal de la actividad de caza es el perro, que es criado y entrenado para ese propósito, con énfasis en perros identificados como “tepezcuintleros” o “saineros”. Hay una fuerte valoración y admiración por el “buen perro”. El objetivo principal es observar y escuchar al perro “rastreando al animal en el monte”, y hay una fascinación especial con respecto a la forma como este ladra en tanto está tras el rastro de la presa.

La cacería en Osa es una actividad que se debilita, posiblemente por la generación actividades económicas alternas como es el caso del turismo rural comunitario, y donde la experiencia de conocer nuestros bosques es valorado, y la vida silvestre paso hacer un atractivo del producto que se ofrece, además de haber encontrado un mundo laboral, donde la gente que caza ha encontrado otras oportunidades. Otra posible explicación, es la participación activa de miembros de las comunidades en grupo de monitoreo biológico comunitario, que han dado respuesta al interés de sus pobladores por entender y proteger la naturaleza que heredaron.

El cazador con su perro dentro de una madriguera de Tepezcuintle. Foto: Marco Hidalgo-Chaverri

La cacería como elemento cultural ha resistido el tiempo, sin importar las vicisitudes, ahora es el peor de los escenarios en un contexto de desarrollo que quiere cambiar por el bien de todos, donde la cacería ya no se justifica, por eso Conservación Osa asumió el reto a través del Proyecto de “Prevención del colapso de los ecosistemas: una alianza de vigilancia basada en la ciencia ciudadana” con el financiamiento del International Conservation Fund of Canada, de realizar un esfuerzo integral de acciones de manejo de vida silvestre y restauración de los ecosistemas en buscar con los grupos organizados locales la reducción del impacto sobre la fauna.

Land Conservation and Forest Restoration, Science and Research, Uncategorized

“Restoring forests for bats” and beyond: NASBR 2018

Blogpost by Elene Haave Audet, Restoration & Rewilding Research Field Assistant

This October, I ventured out of the sanctity of the jungle to present at the 48thNorth American Symposium on Bat Research (NASBR) in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Over 300 researchers from across the globe gathered to share bat stories, communicate their research, and further our understanding of this hugely diverse mammalian group. Because of its location, the conference offered many opportunities to discuss the conservation of bats in the tropics, presenting a great opportunity to share Osa Conservation’s work on surveying bats in the restoration plots.

The Osa Bat Family, Priscila Chaverri, Gloriana Chaverri, Beatriz Lopez, Elene Haave Audet and Doris Audet, at NASBR. Photo: Elene Haave Audet

It was very exciting to see our Restoration and Rewilding efforts so well received by a bat-savvy audience. Researchers were curious to hear about the ways in which Osa Conservation is “restoring forests for bats”. This project is focussed on attracting bats to areas that are actively being restored, for example by planting flowering trees like the balsa, and installing two-meter-tall bat boxes, all with the aim of restoring bat diversity whilst the forest is regenerating.

Micronycteris microstis bats are feeling at home in this bat box, installed by Dr. Chaverri’s team at Osa Conservation. Photo: Elene Haave Audet

Excitingly, the bats of the Osa Peninsula were able to reach the audience in Puerto Vallarta beyond the scope of the restoration project, by researchers conducting work at and around the Osa Verde BioStation. Beatriz Lopez, from the University of Florida, discussed gathering bat echolocation calls on the Osa Peninsula to document species diversity, and Dr. Doris Audet from the University of Alberta, shared her research on bat exploratory behavior in the field. The conference was also a wonderful opportunity to discuss advances in bat research in Costa Rica with Dr. Gloriana Chaverri from the University of Costa Rica, who has planted deep roots of bat research on the peninsula over the course of her career. 

The presence of bat research on the Osa Peninsula, and Osa Conservation’s important contributions to supporting that research, was very well represented at NASBR 2018. The Osa Verde Biostation is truly a gem for bat diversity, with over 50 recorded species of bats to date, and sharing Osa Conservation’s involvement in conserving and restoring habitats for bats ensures that those contributions are recognized and appreciated by the bat community at large. 

Elene, identifying a bat by measuring its forearm, as part of the diversity surveys in the restoration plots. Photo: Elene Haave Audet

Land Conservation and Forest Restoration, Science and Research, Uncategorized

Variety is the spice of life: Monitoring the wildlife in our ecological restoration and rewilding plots

Blogpost by Alice Connell, Restoration and Rewilding Research Field Assistant

Alice monitoring the effectiveness of log piles in attracting amphibian and reptile species to the restoration and rewilding plots. Photo: Sophie Blow

My work is never the same from one day to the next on the Restoration and Rewilding Program, which encompasses many diverse projects that require frequent monitoring. There is plenty to do, I always arrive at lunch hungry and satisfied after mornings of hard work. I want to give you an insight into my first month of being a Restoration and Rewilding Research Field Assistant.

We are employing a variety of approaches and techniques across the rewilding plots in order to “rewild” an array of animals to return to recently reforested abandoned grassland. Our idea is that as the overall species diversity increases, inter- and intra-species interactions within the regenerating areas will begin to re-establish. With some patience and continuous monitoring, we the aim to demonstrate a restored harmonic ecosystem functioning of the Osa Peninsula, and its associated key ecosystem services.

A medium bird box installed to offer shelter for birds. Photo: Alice Connell

One project in the restoration plots is the installation of nesting and roosting boxes to attract birds and bats. To accommodate a variety of species, there are 5 bird box designs, each differing in dimension of the entry hole and the box itself. The frugivorous species belonging to both birds and bats play a vital role in increasing the rate of seed rain, and consequently, the rate of seed dispersal and reforestation.

One day of my week is dedicated to surveying the wonderfully diverse bats that are choosing to use the rewilding plots. The morning’s duty involves erecting mist nets in preparation for the evening’s bat survey. Come the evening time, the team heads back out into the field to open the nets. When the clock strikes six, the monitoring begins, and the excitement of the possibility of catching a new species record ripples through the team.

The species, Micronycteris hirsuta, was recently caught for the first time in one of the rewilding plots. Photo: Alice Connell

The following morning, decaying log piles and epiphytes (such as bromeliads) are translocated to the rewilding plots to increase microhabitat availability, in an effort to rewild amphibians and reptiles. Such microhabitats occur naturally in the primary forests, usually providing refuge for different invertebrates, such as centipedes and millipedes, and for amphibians and reptiles, such as leaf-litter frogs and sun-basking lizards. It is always a pleasure to find a fer-de-lance coiled peacefully within a log pile in a rewilding plot. While the log pile project is relatively new, we have already observed a rapid return and colonization of several amphibian and reptile species within a short period of time, which is highly encouraging.

Undeniably, a huge effort, in terms of time and determination, is required to create a biodiverse and ecologically restored forest ecosystem. Fortunately, the team of highly-motivated and enthusiastic people that constitute the Restoration and Rewilding Program indicates a promising future for Osa’s forests.

A Northern Cat Eyed Snake coiled peacefully within a log pile in a rewilding plot. Photo: Alice Connell


The Prevention of Ecosystem Collapse Project

Blog Post by Marco Hidalgo, Coordinator for Prevention of Ecosystem Collapse

Our tropical forests, including the extensions of mangroves that slope down the south pacific, suffer a constant threat from different man-made factors. One of the most significant threats is the lack of predators and their prey, which have decreased due to recreational and cultural hunting in the Osa Peninsula.

In the search for practical solutions on the ecosystem-level, Osa Conservation’s Prevention of Ecosystem Collapse project hopes to increase the resilience of ecosystems in the Osa Peninsula through the use of citizen science and rewilding practices. Osa Conservation also aims to connect their existing science network with the local ecotourism industry.

This initiative implements acoustic devices that detect the remote activities of the biodiversity in the Osa, which provides us with unique biological data, fast answers, and reliable wildlife monitoring from the canopy of our forest.

The project also offers education workshops and seeks to develop alternative opportunities with the goal of transforming hunters and their children into defenders of wildlife. This project has hosted talks in educational centers where our researchers and local hunters come together to learn about the importance of wildlife in our forests.


Connecting Golfo Dulce’s Fish Populations

Blog Post by José Luis Molina Quirós, Alvaro Ugalde Scholarship Awardee

Costa Rica has a great diversity of species and marine ecosystems that protect and provide food to hundreds of organisms in various phases of their life cycle. For example, El Golfo de Papagayo and Golfo Dulce are just a few of the many hot spots that harbor this diversity of marine species and ecosystems, but these species have not been completely protected.

Sampling of species (Lutjanus guttatus, L. peru and Centropumus viridis) product of artisanal fisheries.

Currently, our country lacks the basic information necessary to evaluate the population structure of bony fish species, which have been exposed to heavy fishing pressure that make a natural recovery of their populations impossible. This problem not only afflicts Costa Rica but also all of Latin America, since there is no scientific data that gives real support and defines the units of a given fishery. For this reason, it is critical to clarify the degree of genetic connectivity among fish populations throughout their geographical distribution in order to maintain the productivity of the populations and ensure the sustainability of fishery resources over time.

Sampling and release of Sailfish (Istiophorus platypterus) in offshore sport fishing with Crocodile Bay in Puerto Jiménez.

Therefore, the present research proposal aims to study the genetic connectivity of several species of teleosts that play a critical role at the ecological and economic level (tourism, sports, and crafts), such as roosterfish (Nematistius pectoralis), snappers (Lutjanus peru and L. guttatus), bass (Centropomus viridis) and sailfish (Istiophorus platypterus). Through the use of nuclear molecular markers (microsatellites), it will be possible to define regulations and estimates of the maximum sustainable level at which a stock can be exploited.

Sampling and release of Roosterfish (Nematistius pectoralis) in inshore sport fishing with Captain Roy Zapata in Quepos.

The results of our research will allow us to generate the first biological-fishery information of these species along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica and establish baseline information that could suggest possible fishery management strategies and measures.

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