The Joint Research Centre (JRC) is responsible for creating, managing and making sense of knowledge to support European policies with independent evidence. This includes developing innovative tools and making them available to policy makers, anticipating emerging issues that will need addressed at EU level, understanding policy environments and sharing knowledge with EU countries, the scientific community and international partners. They contribute to the overall objective of Horizon 2020, the financial instrument implementing the Innovation Union, a flagship initiative aimed at securing Europe’s global competitiveness.
Policy makers at EU and Member States level required spatially-explicit ecosystem service information for use in decision making and the implementation of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020. Land-cover data has already been used to map the distribution of many ecosystem services over the European land surface, however a similar exercise exploring existing seabed habitat data was lacking for the European Seas. The users aimed to map the distribution of seabed-associated ecosystem services capacity by using methods that bring together a geospatial dataset representing the broadscale distribution of permanently submerged seabed habitats with information on the capacity of each habitat to provide various ecosystem services. Seabed habitat data for European Seas was therefore required, with authors highlighting the need for this to be in a format which could be applied across countries/transboundary.
EMODnet Seabed Habitats provided publicly available datasets (EUSeaMap 2016) of the best available information for mapping and assessing marine habitats in European waters, and is provided with EUNIS habitat classes. When combined with additional datasets, translated into the EUNIS class system for consistency, the users had data on over 90% of EU waters down to EUNIS Level 3. Geospatial data on the distribution of subtidal seabed habitats were combined with information on the capacity of these habitats to provide ecosystem services. By using this information, a total of 30 Common International Classification of Ecosystem Services (CICES) categories were mapped. From these maps area-based indicators (i.e. the extent where each service is potentially provided) were extracted for various sub-regions and used to identify potential ecosystem service hotspots. Overall, continental shelves and oceanic elevations (such as islands, seamounts and ridges) were highlighted as hotspots where large numbers of services could be held. The fact that this data was available in a format (EUNIS) which could be applied across the entire study area encompassing multiple different countries saved the authors time and resources on translating data manually.
These new maps and the associated area-based indicators provided the first spatially-explicit baseline concerning the EU-wide distribution of marine ecosystem services. They contribute to the marine component of MAES and will fulfill key objectives of the JRC’s SEACOAST and BES projects. This information is also of value to practitioners, managers and policy makers at European or Member State level, for maritime spatial planning and environmental management. Other potential users include researchers initiating and developing marine ecosystem service mapping studies.