Bird Conservation International (2013) 23:520–529. © BirdLife International, 2013
The problem of raptor electrocution in Asia:
case studies from Mongolia and China
ANDREW DIXON , ROLLER MAMING , AMARKHUU GUNGA ,
GANKHUYAG PUREV-OCHIR and NYAMBAYAR BATBAYAR
We report a large number of raptors electrocuted on recently erected electricity distribution lines in
the open landscapes of the Mongolian steppe and Qinghai-Tibetan plateau, China. Upland Buzzards
Buteo hemilasius and Saker Falcons Falco cherrug , characteristic raptors of these bioregions, were
among those found to be electrocuted. Raptor electrocution was a consequence of poorly designed
hardware configurations on anchor poles along surveyed lines on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau and,
additionally, on line poles in the Mongolian steppe. The design flaws were upright pin-insulators
on earthed crossarms and the use of jump wires that passed over crossarms via pin insulators on
anchor poles. Targeted mitigation of anchor poles could significantly reduce the incidence of electro-
cution on the lines surveyed on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, whilst all poles on the lines sur-
veyed in the Mongolian steppe require remediation to make them safe for raptors. The Mongolian
steppe and the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau are bioregions that hold the largest breeding and wintering
populations of the globally threatened Saker Falcon. The existing and growing network of danger-
ous electricity distribution lines in these regions may potentially impact the Saker Falcon popula-
tion, thus we suggest that preventative and/or mitigation measures are implemented.
Rapid global industrialisation over the last century has resulted in the development of vast net-
works of power distribution lines on all continents except Antarctica. The provision of electricity
is integral to the economic and social development of every country and the health and social
well-being of communities can be improved once they are connected to a reliable electricity sup-
ply (Chaurey et al. 2004 ), whilst the developed world has come to rely on an electricity supply for
everyday existence. Given the importance of electricity for modern human society, the network
of power distribution lines will continue to grow, especially in Asia and Africa.
Transmission lines, carrying electricity from a generation source, form the basis of an electric-
ity grid and from this a network of distribution lines carry the electricity to places where it is
needed. Transformers reduce the voltage between the transmission and distribution lines, and the
distribution network carries a medium-voltage supply (generally 3 to 60 kV; APLIC 2006 ). Because
the voltage is lower, the amount of insulation required is less than for transmission lines, which
means that the energised conductor wires are closer to the crossarm from which they are sus-
pended. Consequently, the proximity of the energized conductors to the line hardware and/or
other phase conductors means that large birds, such as raptors, can become electrocuted by simul-
taneously contacting two phases, by contacting a single phase if their perching site is earthed or
by arcing from a phase to an earthed, perched bird (Prinsen et al. 2011a ).
Electrocution of birds on medium voltage electricity distribution lines is a widespread problem
that has existed since power distribution lines were first erected in the late 19th century
Raptor electrocution in Mongolia and China 521
(Lehman et al. 1999 ). The problem has been recognized internationally and in North America and
Europe steps have been taken to improve the safety of distribution lines (see references in APLIC
2006 , Prinsen et al. 2011a , b ), but the sheer scale of the electricity distribution network and the
extent of mitigation required, mean that thousands of kilometres of power lines still pose an elec-
trocution risk to birds. In Asia and Africa, the electricity distribution network is growing rapidly
(Foster and Briceño-Garmendia 2010 , Hammons 2011 ) and raptor electrocution is likely to be an
increasing problem in these regions (Bevanger 1998 , Boshoff et al. 2011 , Angelov et al. 2013 ).
Relatively little information exists on raptor electrocution in Asia, though it is known to be
responsible for high levels of raptor mortality in Kazakhstan (Lasch et al. 2010 ) and Asiatic Russia
(Saltykov 2012 ). In recent years, studies have been undertaken in Mongolia to identify and high-
light the problem of raptor electrocution (e.g. Gombobaatar et al. 2004 , Harness et al. 2008 , 2010 ,
Amartuvshin and Gombobaatar 2012 ), where the problem is associated primarily with specific
poles with complex wiring at junction points on older distribution lines with wooden poles, and
more importantly, with recently installed lines using concrete poles and hardware manufactured
in China (Dixon 2010 ), suggesting that the problem is likely to be widespread in China too. Little
information exists on the scale or extent of raptor electrocution in China, but the problem has been
documented in western China (Mei et al. 2008 ).
In this paper we report on raptor electrocutions at electricity distribution lines in two Mongolian
provinces and in Qinghai, China. We describe the species found electrocuted on these lines at dif-
ferent times of year, electrocution events in relation to pole design and the efficacy of pre-existing
mitigation measures. We suggest further mitigation for these lines and discuss the potential impact
that electrocution may have on the globally threatened Saker Falcon Falco cherrug in these two
remaining global strongholds for the species.
We undertook opportunistic surveys of electricity distribution lines in Mongolia and China dur-
ing fieldwork for Saker Falcon conservation and management projects. The lines were selected for
survey because carcasses of dead raptors were noted below poles; they do not represent a random
selection of power distribution lines. We conducted whole line surveys rather than segmental
surveys along each line.
Line searches in Mongolia
In Sukhbaatar Province we undertook three searches along a three-phase, 15 kV electricity
distribution line running 56 km from the district centre of Uulbayan to the district centre of
Monkhkhaan: spring (12-13 May 2009), autumn (7 September 2011) and winter (8 March 2012).
The line was constructed in 2004 and crosses open, undulating and treeless landscape in the
central Mongolian steppe with few potential above-ground perching sites for raptors. All poles
were constructed of reinforced concrete and the line comprised 493 standard ‘line’ poles and 35
‘anchor’ poles ( Figure 1b, c & d ). This line has been surveyed previously for electrocuted rap-
tors in 2007 and 2009 (Harness et al. 2008 , 2010 ) and a number of poles had been fitted with
two or four perch-deterrent spikes in an attempt to reduce electrocution risk for birds of prey.
The placement of these spikes differed in that when only two were used they were placed cen-
trally on the crossarm but when four were used the outermost spikes were closer to the phase
wire ( Figure 1e & f ). We have termed these two configurations as non-functional and functional
respectively, because spikes placed centrally cannot prevent birds from perching next to the phases
at the ends of the crossarms.
In Dundgovi Province, we undertook a single search along a three-phase, 15 kV distribution
line running 71 km from the district centre of Olziit to the district centre of Khuld on 11 June 2010.
The line was erected in 2006 and crosses open, undulating and treeless landscape in the central
Mongolian steppe. The Olziit-Khuld line comprised 629 poles and most had been fitted with two
A. Dixon et al. 522
Figures 1a-h. A: line pole with pin insulators for each phase, Qinghai, China; Upland Buzzard
perched on central 1
st phase pin insulator. B: line pole with pin insulators for each phase, Sukhbaatar
Province, Mongolia; Saker Falcon electrocuted at 1st phase pin insulator. C: anchor pole with
strain insulators and one jump wire over the crossarm on the central 1
st phase, Qinghai, China.
D: anchor pole with strain insulators and jump wires over the crossarm on all three phases,
Sukhbaatar Province, Mongolia; Saker Falcon electrocuted at 3
rd phase jump wire on crossarm.
E: line pole fitted with two centrally-positioned, non-functional perch-deterrent spikes; Sukhbataar
Province, Mongolia. F: line pole fitted with four, functional perch-deterrent spikes; Sukhbataar
Province, Mongolia. G: line pole with centrally positioned perch deterrent device, Dornogovi Province,
Mongolia; Common Kestrel perched on crossarm. H: anchor pole at a line deviation point requir-
ing two braced crossarms and jump wires, Qinghai, China; electrocuted Saker Falcon next to
a pin insulator.
Raptor electrocution in Mongolia and China 523
perch-deterrent devices placed centrally on the crossarm ( Figure 1g ). On 13 June 2010, a single
search was made along a 14-km stretch of a three-phase, 6 kV distribution line running from the
district centre of Adaatsag to the settlement of Sum Khokh Burd. This line was constructed in
2004 and comprised 133 poles; there were no perch deterrents fitted to the crossarms on this line.
Line searches in Qinghai, China
In Maduo County, Qinghai, we searched the entire lengths of two 10 kV electricity distribu-
tion lines running from an electricity substation at Madoi to the village of Huangheyaun on
20–21 June 2007 (summer survey) and from a substation at Huashixia to a coal mine near
Miancaowan on 14 January 2008 (winter survey). Both lines travelled over open, undulating and
treeless landscapes on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. Poles and hardware were similar to the
Mongolian lines above, except that the upright pin insulators were taller than those used on the
Mongolian lines ( Figure 1a ). Also, some deviation angles on the line required the use of two dou-
ble braced crossarms on a single pole with jump wires passing from one to the other for all three
phases ( Figure 1h ). The 16 km Madoi-Huangheyuan distribution line comprised 200 line poles
and 19 anchor poles, whilst the 17 km Huashixia-Miancaowan distribution line comprised 239 line
poles and 17 anchor poles.
During each line search, we checked the base of all electricity poles once for carcasses and feather
remains of birds. Many carcasses showed obvious signs of electrocution with burn marks on the
feet, legs and feathers. We assumed that all carcasses found below poles had died from electrocu-
tion and we found no evidence of any other alternative cause of death. We made an assessment of
the how long the carcasses had lain on the ground from the state of decomposition or the condi-
tion of the feather remains if the carcass had been removed. In Mongolia, from May to September,
carcass decomposition by scavenging beetles was very rapid, with most of the flesh removed from
the body of medium-sized raptors such as Saker Falcons and Upland Buzzards Buteo hemilasius
within a few days (A. Dixon pers. obs.). We considered whole carcasses with feathers in good
condition but where the body flesh had been eaten by beetles as recent electrocution events
(< 1 month old) when the ground under the carcass was stained dark brown by beetle excreta.
If there was no evidence of beetle excreta underneath such carcasses they were considered to be
> 1 month old. We were not able to determine removal rates of carcasses by scavengers during our
single-visit searches but in some cases we only found a large number (> 50) of fresh-looking
feathers that showed no obvious weathering, and in these circumstances we assumed that the bird
had been electrocuted within one month and the carcase had been removed by a scavenger.
For power lines surveyed in Sukhbaatar Province, Mongolia and in Qinghai, China we col-
lected data on the type of pole where we found electrocuted birds (i.e. anchor or line pole) and
whether or not the poles had been equipped with perch-deflector spikes. However, this infor-
mation was not recorded for the two lines surveyed in Dundgovi Province, Mongolia, thus we
were unable to examine electrocution in relation to pole type or the presence of perch deflec-
tors for these lines.
In our analysis, we have only included raptors that were assessed to have been electrocuted within
one month of our searches. We used a χ 2 test to compare electrocution events at poles with dif-
ferent hardware configurations and perch deterrents. We present data in terms of the number
of carcasses found, the number per 10 km of power line and per 100 poles, so that comparison
can be made between the different lines in our study and with other studies that report electrocu-
tion rates in these formats.
A. Dixon et al. 524
The opportunistic surveys reported here did not allow us to undertake the repeated visits neces-
sary to assess mortality rate estimates per unit of time. However, all carcasses were judged to be
less than one month old, thus the figures presented in Table 1 can be regarded as a broad estimate
of ‘monthly mortality rates’ at different seasons with the caveat that carcass age assessment is
subjective and that we do not have good measures of carcass removal rates.
Electrocution in Mongolia
During our spring search we found the remains of 41 raptors that had been electrocuted along the
Uulbayan-Monkhkhaan line ( Table 1 ). Species included Black Kite Milvus migrans , Common
Buzzard Buteo buteo and Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis , which are all migrants that do not
breed locally. In contrast, we only found one non-resident migratory species, a Greater Spotted
Eagle Aquila clanga , among 25 electrocuted raptors during our autumn search ( Table 2 ). We
found 45 electrocuted raptors of four resident species, during our winter search.
The number of remains found during the spring, autumn and winter totalled 7.3, 4.5 and 8.0
carcasses per 10 km respectively, though we do not know how many carcasses had been removed
by scavengers as some may have been removed without leaving feather remains. The proportion
of carcasses scavenged was much higher in winter, when 65% of carcasses had been removed leav-
ing only feather remains, compared to 5% and 4% in spring and autumn respectively.
Electrocuted raptors were found under both anchor and line poles ( Figure 2 ). Over the course
of three searches we recorded the frequency of electrocution events during 91 visits to anchor
poles that had jump wires over the crossarm on one ( n = 59) or three phases ( n = 32), and we
found that significantly more raptors were electrocuted on the latter (4.8% cf . 22.0%; χ 2 = 5.475,
df = 1, P = 0.02). Over the course of 1,465 visits to line poles fitted with none ( n = 817), non-
functional ( n = 240) and functional ( n = 408) perch-deterrent spikes, we found no significant
difference in the number of carcasses found at poles with no perch-deterrent spikes and those
with non-functional spikes placed centrally on the crossarm (7.7% cf . 10.8%; χ 2 = 1.958, df = 1,
P = 0.16), but there were significantly fewer carcasses at poles fitted with functional perch-deterrent
spikes (2.7%) than at those with none ( χ 2 = 11.19, df = 1, P < 0.001) and non-functional spikes
( χ 2 = 17.10, df = 1, P < 0.001) .
In Dundgovi Province, we found the carcasses of 23 raptors that had been electrocuted along the
Olziit-Khuld and Adaatsag-Sum Khokh Burd lines, 35% of which were non-resident species
( Table 2 ) .
Electrocution in China
On 20–21 June 2007 (summer search), we found the carcasses of 27 electrocuted raptors along the
Madoi-Huangheyuan distribution line, comprising 23 Upland Buzzards, three Saker Falcons and
a Raven Corvus corax ( Table 3 ). We judged that these had died within a month, but we were
unable to estimate the rate of carcase removal by scavengers and/or power line workers. The
majority of electrocutions occurred at anchor poles and 63.2% (12/19) had electrocuted birds
Table 1. Summary of power lines surveyed in this study.
Country Province LINE NAME kV Length (km) Pole #
Mongolia Sukhbaatar Uulbayan-Monkhkhaan 15 56 528
Mongolia Dundgovi Olziit-Khuld 15 71 629
Mongolia Dundgovi Adaatsag-Sum Koch Burd 614 133
China Qinghai Madoi-Huangheyaun 10 16 219
China Qinghai Huashixia-Miancaowan 10 17 256
Raptor electrocution in Mongolia and China 525
Table 2. Raptor carcasses found along three electricity distribution lines in Mongolia. Searches were undertaken in spring, summer, autumn and winter. Species that breed in
the districts of the power lines are categorized as residents (R), whilst those with breeding populations outside the districts were categorised as migrants (M). All carcasses or
feather remains were judged to be < 1 month old.
Uulbayan-Monkhkhaan Olziit-Khuld Adaatsag-Sum
Spring Autumn Winter Summer Summer
R (%) M (%) R (%) M (%) R (%) M (%) R (%) M (%) R (%) M (%)
Black Kite Milvus migrans 02 (5)00 0 0 0
3 (18)01 (17)
Osprey Pandion haliaetus 0000000
Cinereous Vulture Aegypus monachus 000000000
Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos 3 (7)00012 (27)0000
Steppe Eagle Aquila nipalensis 2 (5)00000000
Greater Spotted Eagle Aquila clanga 000
Upland Buzzard Buteo hemilasius 10 (24)02 (8)014 (31)0002 (33)0
Common Buzzard Buteo buteo 04 (10)00 0 0 00 0
Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis 02 (5)00 0 0 00 0
Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus 0000000
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 2 (5)08 (29)00 0000
Saker Falcon Falco cherrug 7 (21)06 (16)07 (16)08 (47)01 (17)0
Little Owl Athene noctua 001 (3)000000
Raven Corvus corax 9 (22)07 (37)012 (27)00
Carcasses n 33 8 24 1 45 0 10 7 5 1
41 25 45 17 6
Carcasses /10 km 22.214.171.124.28.001.41.03.60.7
Carcasses /100 poles 126.96.36.199.28.501.61.13.80.8
A. Dixon et al. 526
below, whilst only 0.5% (1/200) of line poles had an electrocuted bird below. On this line, the high
level of raptor electrocution events was attributable primarily to the presence of jump-wires over
the crossarm of anchor poles.
On 14 January 2008 (winter search), we found the fresh feather remains of at least 10 dif-
ferent raptors, comprising six Upland Buzzards, two Saker Falcons and two Eagle Owls Bubo bubo
and the whole, fresh carcass of a Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus , together with the older,
decomposed remains of a further 14 raptors (13 Upland Buzzards and a Saker Falcon) along the
Huashixia-Miancaowan distribution line ( Table 3 ). All remains, both recent and old, were found
below anchor poles with overhead jump wires and none were found below line poles.
Figure 2. Percentage of poles with electrocuted raptors on the Uulbayan-Monkhkhaan line in
Sukhbaatar Province, Mongolia. Values show the number of poles of each configuration on the
line. Anchor pole types are (i) one jump wire over the crossarm on the central phase and (ii) three
jump wires over the crossarm on all phases. Standard line pole types are crossarms with (i) no
perch deterrent spikes, (ii) non-functional perch deterrent spikes and (iii) functional perch deter-
Table 3. Recent raptor remains (feathers or carcass) found below 10 kV electricity distribution lines during
surveys in summer (Madoi-Huangheyuan; 16 km, 219 poles) and winter (Huashixia-Miancaowan; 17 km,
256 poles) on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, China.
Summer Survey Winter Survey
Feathers Carcass Feathers Carcass
Upland Buzzard Buteo hemilasius 023 (85%) 6 (55%) 0
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 00 01 (9%)
Saker Falcon Falco cherrug 03 (11%) 2 (18%) 0
Eagle Owl Bubo bubo 00 2 (18%) 0
Common Raven Corvus corax 01 (4%) 00
Carcasses n 27 11
Carcasses /10 km 16.96.5
Carcasses/100 poles 12.34.3
Raptor electrocution in Mongolia and China 527
The number and species of raptors electrocuted at a particular power line will reflect spatial and tem-
poral variation in the composition of the raptor community and the propensity for a particular species
to be electrocuted; larger species are at greater risk than smaller species and some taxa, such as harriers
Circus spp., are less likely to utilise power poles as perch sites (Bevanger 1998 , Lehman et al. 1999 ).
The composition of the raptor community in Mongolia was different in spring/summer when 25% of
electrocuted birds were non-resident migrants compared to autumn/winter, when such species com-
prised only 1% of the electrocuted birds. The higher frequency of feather remains in relation to whole
carcasses found during the winter searches contrasted with our summer searches in Mongolia and
China, indicating that carcass removal by scavengers varies at different times of year. The difference in
carcass scavenging rates during summer and winter makes it difficult for us to meaningfully compare
electrocution rates at different times of year. However, even though we lacked precise information on
the period over which the raptors were electrocuted, it was apparent that a large number of raptors are
electrocuted throughout the year at all the lines we surveyed. Despite the inherent limitations of
opportunistic line surveys there is a need for dissemination of electrocution data in order to inform
conservation management decisions relating to bird electrocution (Lehman et al. 2007 ).
Our line surveys in Qinghai revealed that anchor poles with jump wires over crossarms were espe-
cially dangerous for raptors, with few electrocution events recorded under line poles along the span of
the distribution lines. In contrast, we found many electrocuted birds below line poles along the span of
the Uulbayan-Monkkhaan line in Mongolia. In Qinghai, targeted mitigation focussed on anchor poles
could potentially eliminate most raptor electrocution events on the lines we surveyed, whereas in
Mongolia, even though anchor poles still killed disproportionately more raptors, such targeted mitiga-
tion would not reduce mortality levels to the same extent because many birds were killed at line poles,
thus measures to reduce raptor electrocution events are required for all poles along the surveyed lines.
The reason why line poles in Mongolia posed a greater risk than their counterparts on the sur-
veyed distribution lines in Qinghai is presumably related to differences in the configuration of the
pin insulators rather than differences in bird behaviour in the two regions. In Qinghai, the energised
cables were further from the metal crossarms and the top of the concrete pole than in Mongolia
because the ceramic insulators were taller and they were fixed using longer pins ( Figure 1a and b ).
Poles with perch deterrents placed in close proximity to the pin insulators on crossarms
(i.e. the functional four-spike configuration) had significantly fewer electrocutions at our surveyed
line in Sukhbaatar Province, Mongolia. This contradicts the findings of Harness et al. ( 2010 ) and
Amartuvshin and Gombobaatar ( 2012 ); the former reported no effect of perch deterrent spikes on the
same line, whilst the latter reported an increase in electrocution events with perch deterrents.
However, Harness et al. ( 2010 ) did not distinguish between functional deterrent spikes placed near
the insulators (four-spike configuration) and non-functional spikes placed centrally on the crossarm
(two-spike configuration), whilst the data analysis of Amartuvshin and Gombobaatar ( 2012 ) is erro-
neous as the correlation between number of dead raptors and the number of spikes did not take into
account the number of poles with different perch deterrent configurations. Aside from reconfiguring
the hardware to a safe design on line poles (examples in APLIC 2006 , Prinsen et al. 2011b ), potential
retrospective mitigation measures include fitting perch deterrents close to pin insulators on all cros-
sarms or fitting covers over the pin insulators and adjacent exposed areas of the phase conductors.
Pole design has been shown to be the main factor accounting for variation in electrocution
rates between power lines, and in order to maximise efficacy of remediation and optimise resource
allocation it is advisable to undertake predictive modelling to identify the most important poles
requiring mitigation (Tintó et al. 2010 ). In both Mongolia and China, jump wires over crossarms
on anchor poles were especially dangerous for raptors. Electrocution can occur through direct
contact with the energized jump wire ( Figures 1d & h ). Consequently, mitigation can simply
involve reconfiguration of the jump wires to pass under the crossarm, but if this is not possible
at all three phases, especially the central first phase, mitigation could involve insulating the
overhead jump wires and covering both the strain and pin insulators (examples in APLIC 2006 ,
A. Dixon et al. 528
Prinsen et al. 2011b ). However, insulation is best regarded as a temporary or complementary
solution to reconfiguration and can be costly to undertake and to maintain (Tintó et al. 2010 , Guil
et al. 2011 ). With regard to mitigation and reconfiguration costs, the use of poles with safe designs
at the outset is the most cost effective option when constructing new power distribution lines.
The globally threatened Saker Falcon is susceptible to electrocution on power distribution lines in
the open steppe and plateau landscapes of Mongolia and Qinghai. This was reflected by the temporal
stability in the number of Saker Falcons in our sample of electrocuted raptors obtained during different
seasons in Sukhbaatar Province, Mongolia and in Qinghai, China. In Sukhbaatar Province, Mongolia
there are five distribution lines (total 310 km) known to have a high frequency of raptor electrocutions
(S. Batkhuu pers. comm.). However, we do not know how many similar electricity distribution lines
exist in other parts of Mongolia and Qinghai, but it is evident that the number is increasing with
economic, industrial and social development. Consequently, mortality of Saker Falcons as a result of
electrocution is also likely to increase in these two globally important bioregions for the species. Further
work is required to determine if mortality rates due to electrocution have a significant impact on Saker
Falcon breeding populations in the Mongolian steppe and the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau.
This study was undertaken on behalf of and funded by the Environment Agency–Abu Dhabi
(EAD). Surveys in Mongolia were conducted under a Memorandum of Understanding between
EAD, the Ministry of Nature, Environment and Tourism (MNET) and International Wildlife
Consultants Ltd. We thank HE M. Al Bowardi for his support and interest in this study. The
following provided assistance in the field: C. Ashford, Batzul B., Hu B-W., Mei Y. and P. Stafford.
S. Batkhuu (Sukhbaatar branch of the Eastern Energy System, Mongolia) and Shi Y. (Qinghai
Electrical Power, China) provided background information on power distribution lines and raptor
electrocution in their respective regions.
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ANDREW DIXON *
International Wildlife Consultants Ltd. , PO Box 19 , Carmarthen SA33 5YL , UK.
Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography , Chinese Academy of Sciences , 818 Beijing Road ,
Urumqi 830011 , Xinjiang , China.
AMARKHUU GUNGA , GANKHUYAG PUREV-OCHIR , NYAMBAYAR BATBAYAR
Wildlife Science and Conservation Center , Office 33 , Undram Plaza , Bayanzurkh District ,
Ulaanbaatar 51 , Mongolia.
* Author for correspondence; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Received 16 January 2013 ; revision accepted 10 May 2013 ;
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