European ecosystem assessment — concept, data, and implementation

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Courtesy of European Environment Agency (EEA)

This report summarises EEA contributions to Target 2 Action 5 'Mapping and Assessment of Ecosystems and their Services (MAES)' for the implementation of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 (EC, 2011), the Strategy of the EU to meet the global targets of the Convention of Biodiversity (UN, 2010). Europe is becoming greener (Fuchs et al., 2014) but, at the same time, losing biodiversity. At least one-out-of-three species in Europe is threatened with extinction (IUCN, 2011a-d). Many ecosystems are pushed towards the provision of one service — mainly food production — at the cost of the other services they usually provide. The EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 aims towards 'healthy' ecosystems that are rich in biodiversity and provide multiple services for human well-being.

Implementation is based on a common agreement between the EEA, the Commission Services (DG-ENV) and the Joint Research Centre (JRC), to share the work of European level assessment. As described in this report, the EEA is in the lead for mapping and assessing ecosystems and their conditions. The information, combined with the assessment of ecosystem services (JRC), will provide information about ecosystem conditions and their capacity to provide services on a European level.

First, the document provides an overview about the motivation to use an ecosystem-based approach, and the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 as policy background.

The second chapter outlines specific aspects of addressing habitats and biodiversity in the context of ecosystems, ecosystem service assessments and natural capital, and describes the conceptual framework to map and assess ecosystems in more detail. It uses the DPSIR (Drivers Pressures State Impact Response) approach to put different elements of environmental information into coherent context. The Millennium Assessment (MA) identified a number of key drivers and pressures affecting ecosystems and their services that are essential for human well-being. For this study the pressures are grouped into five major blocks: habitat change, climate change, invasive species, land use management, and pollution and nutrient enrichment. These blocks reflect important processes affecting ecosystems at different scales (continental to local), and also the major policy efforts devised to cope with negative effects. Finally, the major elements for mapping pressures, ecosystem conditions and impacts, are outlined and explained — followed by a short summary of an extensive evaluation of existing European data.

In the third chapter, the mapping and assessment process is further explained. For each pressure, as well as for mapping and assessing ecosystem condition and its impacts on biodiversity, available data have been collected and summarised in a series of tables (Annex 2). The tables provide information about the mapping process, accessibility and the gaps identified. For each pressure, one example is shown, and data availability, as well as gaps, are addressed. Mapping ecosystem conditions comprises two major building blocks. First, a European ecosystem map was produced by linking Corine Land Cover (CLC) data with the European Nature Information System (EUNIS) habitat information. This map describes the distribution of ecosystem types across Europe. Secondly, the actual ecosystem conditions and the observed environmental changes have to be mapped by combining the ecosystem map with environmental monitoring data. Linking this information to the maps describing the environmental pressures provides a first overview on how pressures affect ecosystem conditions, habitat quality and biodiversity, and how pressures and conditions are changing over time. To assess the impacts of pressures on ecosystem conditions and habitat quality and biodiversity, the functional relationships, i.e. the so-called functional traits, have to be evaluated and described. The knowledge about these relationships triggers the quality of the impact assessment. Each of these steps is illustrated — using cropland and grassland as examples. In parallel, methods on how to combine information to map cumulative pressures and conditions are outlined in flow charts.

In the fourth chapter, the achievements of the Europe-wide ecosystem assessment are summarised, discussed, and set into context with the remaining challenges, for the provision of the relevant knowledge to underpin the quantitative targets of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 — mainly the 'no net loss' and the 'restoration and prioritisation framework'. Furthermore, currently available data need to be integrated with the new data available (mainly) from European environmental legislation and monitoring.

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