The AQUACROSS Assessment Framework offers a conceptual guide for the ecosystem-based management of aquatic ecosystems. An executive summary which synthesises the report’s main findings is also available. By refining theoretical work completed in D3.1 Innovative Concept and proposing pragmatic methods and tools, the Assessment Framework establishes a common framework for assessing complex systems and developing integrated management plans that reflect the complexity, interdependencies, and uncertainty of socio-ecological ecosystems.
The report provides the foundation for ongoing research in AQUACROSS. It will be applied and further developed in collaboration with each of the eight AQUACROSS case studies. As such, the Assessment Framework will continue to be co-built with researchers and stakeholders over the remainder of the AQUACROSS project.
The report, lead by IMDEA, is divided into two sections. The first section, ‘What to Assess’, discusses existing analytical frameworks and identifies the distinctive features of the AQUACROSS Assessment Framework. These include an ecosystem-based management approach, an understanding of ecosystems as complex and adaptive, and the importance of interdisciplinary and stakeholder knowledge, among others.
The second section, ‘How to Assess’, provides a practical and sequential guide to assessing complex ecosystems and realising integrated management. Key AQUACROSS topics are covered, such as how to analyse drivers and pressures, how these link to ecosystem state and biodiversity, and in turn how this causally affects the ecosystem services enjoyed by society. Crosscutting issues such as information flows for analysis, uncertainty, and the challenge of assessment and management at different scales are also considered. The overall focus is on how ecosystem-based management can support the achievement of EU and international biodiversity targets.
Key conclusions of the Assessment Framework include:
- The use of local and stakeholder knowledge is necessary to portray the complexity of aquatic ecosystems and the surrounding decision-making context by enabling decision makers to conceptualise long-term outcomes and co-design solutions with relevant stakeholders.
- Management objectives should be clearly defined, measureable, and set at a local-level, therefore enabling policy makers to identify deficits between the current and desired state of the ecosystem.
- As well as assessing management options based on the standard criteria of effectiveness, efficiency, and equity, decision makers should favour management options that increase the resilience of the socio-ecological system.
- To protect biodiversity, policy makers must first understand the underlying drivers that result in the pressures that threaten aquatic ecosystems. All of these drivers and pressures must be considered as part of a complex system.
- To adequately capture all of the benefits flowing from an ecosystem to society, decision makers must consider both biologically-mediated ecosystem services (that is, benefits whose flow is dependent on an ecosystem’s biodiversity) and abiotic outputs (such as oil or minerals, the flow which is independent of the ecosystem health).