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Understanding ecosystem service provision and flows in benthic habitats – the Marine Ecosystems Services Optimisation Tool (MESO)

Case Study 2019

Understanding ecosystem service provision and flows in benthic habitats – the Marine Ecosystems Services Optimisation Tool (MESO)

Growing interest in marine natural capital has highlighted the need for better understanding of the provision and flow of marine ecosystem services from benthic habitats, and the impact of human activity upon them, so that these habitats can be managed sustainably.

This concept of ecosystem service flows – that is, how an ecosystem service generated in one habitat can have a benefit or impact at a distance – has led JNCC to commission the development of a Marine Ecosystem Services Optimisation Tool (MESO). The aim of the tool is to understand the linkages between different components of the marine environment, the ecosystem services they provide, and how they might be affected by potential development. Specifically, the MESO project has focused on estimating the probable impacts of marine activities on the provision of ecosystem services from sublittoral habitats – including sand, mud, coarse sediment, mixed sediment and rock – to enable a comparison of different options on sustainability grounds.


The MESO demonstration tool

The MESO tool will use real-world data to model the relationships between (a) an ecological model of the habitats; (b) ecosystem services; and (c) human-induced pressures. The aim is to determine the probability that specific ecosystem services will increase or decrease under different development pressure scenarios.

The modelling is based on a Gaussian Bayesian Belief Network approach which uses mathematics and ecological knowledge to reveal probabilistic dependencies between multiple events.

The modelling work is supported by a strong evidence base. The ecological functions, connectivity and flow of processes in each model are underpinned by Conceptual Ecological Models of each habitat. The suite of pressures that arise from various scenarios have been estimated from a comprehensive literature review. The project has also identified where knowledge gaps exist.

The end user interface is an important output of the project, since the tool is designed to be used by anyone with a role in managing or regulating activity or development in the marine environment. Through application of the tool, users will be able to identify the probable direction and strength of changes in the provision of ecosystem services that would result from different human-induced pressures. This can then be fed into the development of recommendations on which activities are most likely to provide the best possible, or optimal, outcome for ecosystem services from a variety of habitats.


Next steps

Although the experimental tool has focused on marine industrial decommissioning, MESO could easily be applied to other sectors such as fishing, shipping and recreation.  It could be used to inform decisions about net gain in marine planning.

A medium-term goal, subject to testing of the model and tool, is to add further habitats and specific species to the model, as well as spatial and temporal elements so that it can be applied to specific Marine Protected Areas and give an idea of what might happen over time (for example in terms of recovery timescales).

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