Healthy river ecosystems can provide fundamental ecological services for human survival and social development. However, previous studies that have sought to assess river ecosystem health have primarily focused on individual biological communities rather than on all aquatic communities and have been based on a single-index assessment method, thereby leading to large uncertainties in the results. In this study, we developed a new framework for the integrated assessment of aquatic ecosystem health based on the principal communities of fish, zoobenthos, phytoplankton, and zooplankton in rivers. An index of biotic integrity was used to evaluate the health of fish and zoobenthos communities, and a diversity index was used to evaluate the health of zooplankton and phytoplankton communities. To integrate the health assessment results from these four communities, a quantile normalization method was developed, where uncertainties in assessments obtained using the diversity index were well compensated for by the assessments obtained using the biotic integrity index. The framework was then applied to a pilot city, which is being constructed as a civilized freshwater ecological city in China. The results were then compared with those previously obtained based on the single-community method. Using this new framework, we found that the aquatic ecosystem health changed regularly in space and over time. Large differences were detected among the assessments of the four individual communities based on the single-community method, with the health score determined using phytoplankton being the highest, followed by that of zoobenthos, zooplankton, and fish, which made it difficult to reach a definitive conclusion regarding aquatic health status. The integrated assessment framework presented in this study successfully overcame the narrow perspective of the single-community method, thereby reducing uncertainties in the assessments based only on a single diversity index, and instead provides a comprehensive view of the status of aquatic ecosystem health. Thus, this integrated framework could assist river managers and stakeholders in developing comprehensive strategies for ecological restoration and water resource management and could become a key research tool for the health assessment and rehabilitation of aquatic ecosystems globally.
The assessment and mapping of ecosystem services (ES) has become an increasingly important instrument for environmental management and conservation priority-setting. As such, this practice can be used in ecosystem-based Marine Spatial Planning (MSP). MSP is recognized as an opportunity to achieve socio-economic and ecological goals simultaneously, to suggest solutions for sustainable management of marine environment and its resources. In this study, we propose an operational approach that includes novel spatial analysis in the marine field to quantify and map supporting ecosystem services. Such approach spans the 3D-dimension of the marine environment, considering all marine domains (sea surface, water column, seabed) separately. Our approach is focused on mapping supporting ES of the Adriatic Sea, to grant their preservation in order to guarantee the delivery of all other ES. Supporting ES provision in the Adriatic was quantified through the use of indicators that denote ES delivery and that are specifically related to the three marine domains. We identified areas of elevated provisioning levels of multiple supporting ES in the Adriatic, which is hypothesized to be priority areas of conservation. Our results confirm the importance of explicitly including the pelagic domain in planning and conservation processes. Areas that provide the lowest levels of supporting ES delivery were also mapped, to indicate possible ‘sacrificial areas’ for industrial or intensive use. The spatial coincidence of the determined hotspots areas of ES delivery associated with particular marine areas that are and are not under conservation regimes was analysed. This approach led us to test the applicability of the method for identifying marine areas for conservation purposes. Our methodological approach aims at producing relevant scientific knowledge for prioritizing marine conservation and sustainable management actions, to be used in MSP and marine management.
Resource subsidies across ecosystems can have strong and unforeseen ecological impacts. Marine-derived nutrients from Pacific salmon (Onchorhycus spp.) can be transferred to streams and riparian forests through diverse food web pathways, fertilizing forests and increasing invertebrate abundance, which may in turn affect breeding birds. We quantified the influence of salmon on the abundance and composition of songbird communities across a wide range of salmon-spawning biomass on 14 streams along a remote coastal region of British Columbia, Canada. Point-count data spanning two years were combined with salmon biomass and 13 environmental covariates in riparian forests to test for correlates with bird abundance, foraging guilds, individual species, and avian diversity. We show that bird abundance and diversity increase with salmon biomass and that watershed size and forest composition are less important predictors. This work provides new evidence for the importance of salmon to terrestrial ecosystems and information that can inform ecosystem-based management.
Mineral extraction from the seabed has experienced a recent surge of interest from both the mining industry and marine scientists. While improved methods of geological investigation have enabled the mapping of new seafloor mineral reserves, the ecological impacts of mining in both the deep sea and the shallow seabed are poorly known. This paper presents a synthesis of the empirical evidence from experimental seabed mining and parallel industries to infer the effects of seabed mineral extraction on marine ecosystems, focusing on polymetallic nodules and ferromanganese concretions. We use a problem-structuring framework to evaluate causal relationships between pressures caused by nodule extraction and the associated changes in marine ecosystems. To ensure that the rationale behind impact assessments is clear, we propose that future impact assessments use pressure-specific expert elicitation. We further discuss integrating ecosystem services in the impact assessments and the implications of current methods for environmental risk assessments.
There is great interest and rapid progress around the world in developing sets of indicators of marine ecosystem integrity for assessment and management. However, the complexity of coastal marine ecosystems can challenge such efforts. To address this challenge, an expert-based, hierarchical, and adaptive approach was developed with the objectives of healthy marine ecosystems and community partnerships in monitoring and management. Small sets of the top-ranked indicators of ecosystem integrity and associated human pressures were derived from expert-rankings of lists of identified candidate indicators of the status of, and pressures on, each of 17 ecosystem features, organized within 8 elements in turn within 3 overlapping aspects of ecosystem health. Over 200 experts played a role in rating the relative value of 1035 candidate indicators. A panel of topic experts was assigned to each of the 17 ecosystem features to apply 21 weighted indicator selection criteria. Selection criteria and candidate indicators were identified through literature reviews, expert panels, and surveys, and they were evaluated in terms of the experts' judgements of importance to the health of Canada's Pacific marine ecosystems. This produced a flexible, robust, and adaptable approach to identifying representative sets of indicators for any scale and for any management unit within Canada's Pacific. At the broadest scale, it produced a top 20 list of ecosystem state and pressure indicators. These top indicators, or other sets selected for smaller regions, can then guide the development of both regional and nested local monitoring programs in a way that maximizes continuity while including locally unique values. This hierarchical expert-based approach was designed to address challenges of complexity and scale and to enable efficient selection of useful and representative sets of indicators of ecosystem integrity while also enabling the participation of broad government and stakeholder communities.
The valuation of nature is an inbuilt component of validating environmental management decisions and an important research field for different disciplines related to conservation, economy and ethics. Here, biodiversity was valued using an ecological approach based on the intrinsic value incorporated in biodiversity per se, regardless of any human association. The Marine Biological Valuation protocol was drawn upon the methodology of terrestrial valuation maps, to support the European MSFD environmental status assessment (descriptor 1 – biodiversity) and national marine spatial planning approaches. To apply the protocol on the Portuguese continental shelf we compiled and analyzed national biological databases for a wide taxonomic range of ecosystem components (seabirds, demersal fish, macrobenthos, marine mammals and sea turtles) and assessed the spatial overlap with existing and proposed conservation areas (Natura 2000 network). The resultant maps described patterns of biological value consistent with the physical and biological oceanographic conditions as well as local hydrodynamics of the Portuguese continental shelf. The results of our approach confirm previously identified valuable areas for protection (particularly in the northern and central regions), but also highlights the value of currently unprotected sites, mainly in the southern region. Biological valuation maps showed to be comprehensive tool to compile and spatially analyze biological datasets. By drawing attention to subzones of biological importance, it constitutes a valuable instrument in making appropriate-scale decisions on the spatial allocation of human activities in the context of the Portuguese marine spatial planning, currently facing the pressure and impacts of increased maritime exploitation.
The assessment of ecosystem services, the benefits humans obtain from ecosystems, is a worldwide topic of growing interest, but examples addressing coastal and marine waters are still a small minority. In this study, we carry out an expert based ecosystem service assessment for a concrete case study, the Szczecin (Oder) Lagoon located at the German/Polish border in the Baltic Sea region. We analyze to what extent, in which step and how it can be applied for supporting Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM), the ecological-social-economic assessment within System Approach Frameworks (SAF), and Marine Spatial Planning (MSP). The large, shallow Szczecin Lagoon is heavily eutrophied. Therefore, several alternative measures (scenarios) are under discussion to improve its water quality and its ecological status. Scenarios include a large-scale mussel farm; the establishment of a local mussel farm that removes nutrients via harvest and increases water transparency; artificial mussel beds; groins to reduce coastal current velocities, favor sediment accumulation, and promote the enlargement of macrophyte beds and other measures to enlarge macrophyte belts and coverage. We adapt and apply a computer aided ecosystem service assessment and visualization tool (ESAT). Eight experts and two student groups apply this tool and carry out an assessment of each scenario compared to the present state of the lagoon. The results show that the scenario assuming measures to enlarge macrophyte belts is perceived as the one that generates the highest additional ecosystem service output. However, more importantly our approach can serve as tool to catch the views of experts, can extract disagreements between experts and misunderstandings in the setup of scenarios as well as services that have highest priority for further consideration. Further, the results are useful for preparing stakeholder discussions and workshops. However, the expert assessments are influenced by the spatial scale of the assessed scenarios. As consequence, the assessment results itself cannot be regarded as a reliable basis for decision making. Today, Integrated Coastal Zone Management ideas and approaches are well reflected and integrated into Marine Spatial Planning and we show that a comparative ecosystem service assessment can be applied in different steps of each concept.
Here we provide a broad overview of the Great Amazon Reef System (GARS) based on the first-ever video surveys of the region. This footage supports four major hypotheses: (1) the GARS area may be six times larger than previously suggested (up to 56,000 km2); (2) the GARS may extend deeper than previously suggested (up to 220 m); (3) the GARS is composed of a greater complexity and diversity of habitats than previously recognized (e.g., reef platforms, reef walls, rhodolith beds, and sponge bottoms); and (4) the GARS represents a useful system to test whether a deep corridor connects the Caribbean Sea to the Southwest Atlantic Ocean. We also call attention to the urgent need to adopt precautionary conservation measures to protect the region in the face of increasing threats from extractive oil and gas practices. With less than 5% of the potential area of the GARS surveyed so far, more research will be required to inform a systematic conservation planning approach and determine how best to establish a network of marine protected areas. Such planning will be required to reconcile extractive activities with effective biodiversity conservation in the GARS.
Indonesia's marine ecosystems form a fundamental part of the world's natural heritage, representing a global maxima of marine biodiversity and supporting the world's second largest production of seafood. Seagrasses are a key part of that support. In the absence of empirical data we present evidence from expert opinions as to the state of Indonesia's seagrass ecosystems, their support for ecosystem services, with a focus on fisheries, and the damaging activities that threaten their existence. We further draw on expert opinion to elicit potential solutions to prevent further loss. Seagrasses and the ecosystem services they support across the Indonesian archipelago are in a critical state of decline. Declining seagrass health is the result of shifting environmental conditions due largely to coastal development, land reclamation, and deforestation, as well as seaweed farming, overfishing and garbage dumping. In particular, we also describe the declining state of the fisheries resources that seagrass meadows support. The perilous state of Indonesia's seagrasses will compromise their resilience to climate change and result in a loss of their high ecosystem service value. Community supported management initiatives provide one mechanism for seagrass protection. Exemplars highlight the need for increased local level autonomy for the management of marine resources, opening up opportunities for incentive type conservation schemes.