Ecosystems Goods and Services in the Marine Environment: Indicators and Monitoring

Mel Austen
Head of Science: Sea and Society, Plymouth Marine Laboratory


Quantifying the provision of marine ecosystem services, how they have changed and how they might change in the future under different scenarios can help policy makers, regulators and other stakeholders to understand the societal importance of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. However, doing so in practice has proved challenging because there has not been a coherent set of indicators to enable this. This talk will outline the need to distinguish between indicators of ecosystem services that are entirely ecological in nature (and largely reveal the potential of an ecosystem to provide ecosystem services), indicators for the ecological processes contributing to the delivery of these services, and indicators of benefits that reveal the realised human use or enjoyment of an ecosystem service and which can be valued in monetary or non-monetary terms. A suite of indicators for the full complement of marine ecosystem services in continental shelf waters has been compiled (Hattam et al 2014). The indicators are based on ecological properties and functions of marine ecosystems. Each indicator has been assessed against a set of agreed criteria to ensure its relevance and applicability to environmental management. The talk will highlight some of the difficulties faced in selecting meaningful indicators, such as problems of specificity, spatial disconnect and the considerable uncertainty about marine species, habitats and the processes, functions and services they contribute to.

Drawing on these indicators ecosystem services have been quantified in case study areas in their present and under possible future states and this talk will present the case study of the Dogger Bank. This work was a component part of VECTORS, a large multidisciplinary EU project that has examined changes in marine life across European Seas and their ecosystem, economic and social consequences. The ecosystem service assessment was facilitated in VECTORS: by development of contrasting future scenarios that incorporate analysis of future governance and its implications for different maritime sectors; by biodiversity and ecosystem functioning studies that have furthered our understanding of the changes that are occurring and might occur in the future which, combined with ecosystem modelling, have been used to project future changes in ecosystem services indicators; and finally valuation studies that examine how values will change under the different scenarios (Bӧrger et al 2014). Through the VECTORS project we have demonstrated that the tools are now coming into place to make assessments of changes in marine biodiversity terms that indicate their societal importance and can be more easily communicated to policy makers and managers.

A recently started EU project, DEVOTES, is investigating biodiversity indicators for use in monitoring under MSFD across the EU. Early studies suggest that there is little or no incentive to align these indicators with those required to quantify changes in ecosystem services. This could be a missed opportunity for the widespread and routine application of ecosystem service assessment to support policy, regulation and management.

Related reading and web links:

VECTORS: Vectors of Change in Oceans and Seas Marine Life, Impact on Economic Sectors

DEVOTES: DEVelopment Of innovative Tools for understanding marine biodiversity and assessing good Environmental Status

Hattam C, Atkins JP, Beaumont N, Bӧrger T, Bӧhnke-Henrichs A, Burdon D, de Groot R, Hoefnagel E, Nunes PA, Piwowarczyk J, Sastre S, Austen MC 2014. Marine Ecosystem Services: linking indicators to their classification. Ecological Indicators, 49, 61-75. [open access]

Bӧrger T, Hattam C, Burdon D, Atkins JP, Austen MC 2014. Valuing conservation benefits of an offshore marine protected area. Ecological Economics, 108 229-241. [open access]

JRC 2014 In-Depth Assessment of the EU Member States’ Submissions for the Marine Strategy Framework Directive under articles 8, 9 and 10.

T. Luisetti, S. Boyes, D. Burdon, J. Atkins, K. C. Bizsel, T. Börger, L. Carugati, R.Danovaro, M. Elliot, H. Eronat, G. Kaboglu, A. Murillas, S. Oinonen, L. Paltriguera, N. Papadopoulou, B. Petani, A. Pusceddu, V. Saggiomo, J. Salojärvi, M. Scardi, C. J. Smith, V. Vassilopoulou, M. C. Uyarra, and M. Austen. (in preparation) The European Marine Strategy Framework Directive: barriers to its implementation. [Presentation at IMBER Open Science Conference, 24thJune 2014, Bergen, Norway]