Marine biological valuation

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Definition of Marine biological valuation:
The intrinsic value of marine biodiversity, without reference to anthropogenic use (Derous et al. 2007a)[1].
This is the common definition for Marine biological valuation, other definitions can be discussed in the article

Development of biological valuation approaches

Current attempts to valuate nature are based largely on two papers published by Costanza et al. (1997)[2] and Costanza (1999)[3], which set forth the foundation for assessing the value of environmental goods and services in monetary terms. However, challenges to purely economic valuations of nature were soon recognized [4]. This article presents a concept for biological valuation in the marine environment developed by Derous et al. (2007a), based on an international workshop held in 2004 and an extensive literature review [1]. The purpose of marine biological valuation is to assess the intrinsic biological value of marine areas and their subzones. This can be done on a continuous or discrete value scale, e.g. high, medium and low value[1]. Biological valuation is not a process to select areas for conservation according to quantitative objectives, but gives an overview of the integrated biological value of the different subzones within a study area (relative to each other). The decision to include one or more subzones in a marine reserve cannot be made on the basis of the outcome of a biological valuation, because the latter process does not take into account management criteria and quantitative conservation targets.

Biological valuation methodology

Different definitions of 'marine biological value' are currently found in the literature. What is meant by 'value' is directly linked to the objectives behind the process of valuation (e.g. conservation, sustainable use, preservation of biodiversity, etc.). Discussions on the value of marine biodiversity almost always refer to the socio-economic value of biodiversity (i.e. the so-called value of the goods and services provided by marine ecosystems, or the value of an area in terms of importance for human use), and attempts to attach a monetary value to the biodiversity in an area (see Total Economic Value). Many approaches try to highlight only the most important sites in a region in order to designate priority sites for conservation. These priority sites are often chosen on the basis of the hotspot approach, which is used to select sites with high numbers of rare/endemic species or high species richness. In this article 'marine biological value' is defined as follows: 'the intrinsic value of marine biodiversity, without reference to anthropogenic use'. This definition is similar to the definition of value of natural areas of Smith and Theberge (1986)[5]: 'the assessment of ecosystem qualities per se, regardless of their social interests' (i.e. their intrinsic value). By 'ecosystem qualities' the authors of the latter paper covered all levels of biodiversity, from genetic diversity to ecosystem processes. The purpose of marine biological valuation is to provide subzones within the target study area with a label of their intrinsic biological value (on a continuous or discrete value scale, e.g. high, medium and low value). Subzones are defined as subregions within the study area that can be scored relative to each other, against a set of biological valuation criteria. The size of these subzones depends on the size of the study area, on the biodiversity components under consideration and on the amount of available data and should therefore be decided on a case by case basis. In contrast to the hotspot approach (i.e. identification of priority areas for conservation), we do not want to highlight solely the most valuable subzones. The product of the valuation process, i.e. the intrinsic values of the subzones, can then be presented on marine Biological Valuation Maps (BVMs), as further explained in the article Valuation and assessment of biodiversity. The BVM can serve as a baseline map showing the distribution of complex biological and ecological information. The marine biological valuation methodology is designed to integrate all available biological information on an area into one indicator. This methodology can be used in every marine environment, regardless of the amount and quality of the available biological data or the habitat type. It yields relative results that allow comparisons between subzones within a study site, but no absolute values that could be used to compare different study areas[6]. In contrast to many other approaches, no single measures of biodiversity (such as species richness or occurrence of flagship or keystone species) are used in this methodology, as these would not reflect total biodiversity or would not adequately mirror the complex marine biological systems Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; refs with no name must have content.

In a first approach, five valuation criteria were selected [1] . The three first-order criteria were rarity, aggregation and fitness consequences. In addition, the two modifying criteria naturalness and proportional importance were included. The criteria are defined in Table 1.

Table 1. Set of marine valuation criteria and their definitions

Valuation criterion Definition
1st order criteria Rarity Degree to which an area is characterized by unique, rare or distinct features (landscapes/habitats/ communities/species/ecological functions/ geomorphological and/or hydrological characteristics) for which no alternatives exist.
Aggregation Degree to which an area is a site where most individuals of a species are aggregated for some part of the year or a site which most individuals use for some important function in their life history or a site where some structural property or ecological process occurs with exceptionally high density.
Fitness consequences Degree to which an area is a site where the activity(ies) undertaken make a vital contribution to the fitness (= increased survival or reproduction) of the population or species present.
Modifying criteria Naturalness The degree to which an area is pristine and characterized by native species (i.e. absence of perturbation by human activities and absence of introduced or cultured species).
Proportional importance Global importance: proportionof the global extent of a feature (habitat/seascape) or proportion of the global population of a species occurring in a certain subarea within the study area.

Regional importance: proportion of the regional (e.g. NE Atlantic region) extent of a feature (habitat/seascape) or proportion of the regional population of a species occurring in a certain subarea within the study area. National importance: proportion of the national extent of a feature (habitat/ seascape) or proportion of the national population of a species occurring in a certain subarea within territorial waters.

In a second approach, the concept of marine biological valuation as described above was reorganized to avoid double counting of scores (i.e. lumped criterion 'aggregation-fitness consequences') and to allow a more logical order of the steps which should be made during valuation (i.e. assessing the biological value at two different scales instead of incorporation of 'proportional importance' as a valuation criterion)[7]. 'Rarity' was retained as a valuation criterion while 'naturalness' was excluded from the concept.

Although the concept of biodiversity as a valuation criterion is highly attractive to managers, the practice of distilling biodiversity to a single index or a few dimensions is unjustified[8][9][10], which is why biodiversity was not directly used as a criterion in the present valuation concept. A more general framework for the assessment of biodiversity is needed that uses available information from a range of organizational levels (genes, species, communities, ecosystems) and considers the relationships among these levels. It is also emphasized that, in addition to biodiversity 'structures', there is also a need to include biodiversity processes such as aspects of the functioning of ecosystems, which could even be more important than high species richness or diversity indices in certain low biodiversity sites like estuaries[11]. Bengtsson (1998)[12] also stated that biodiversity is an abstract aggregated property of species in the context of communities or ecosystems, and that there is no mechanistic relationship between single measures of biodiversity and the functioning of the entire ecosystem. Ecosystem functioning can, however, be included indirectly in an assessment of biodiversity value, through the identification of functional species or groups and critical areas. Zacharias and Roff (2000)[13] visualized the various components of biodiversity in their 'marine ecological framework' (going from the species to the ecosystem level and including both biodiversity structures and processes). Each of these components can be linked to one or more of the selected valuation criteria, which makes it unnecessary to include biodiversity as a separate valuation criterion. By using this 'framework' it could therefore be possible to apply the valuation criteria while integrating various components of biodiversity.

Are all species equal?

This approach was developed for the establishment of the best criteria for delineating marine protected areas. Since any kind of valuation requires ranking selected objects as more or less valuable, it raises ethical and philosophical questions, namely, whether all species are equal or not. Some recent studies discuss this dilemma, including Linder (1988)[14], Schmidtz (2002)[15], Singer (1989)[16], and Jennings (2009)[17]. Although it is accepted that all species are equal in moral terms, their contributions to ecosystem structure and function differ, and this can be assessed in scientific terms. Phylogenetic relationships can also be taken into account when considering biological value: so has a species that is one of hundreds in a single genus a lower importance for conservation than a species that is the only one in its order.

Biological valuation maps

Biological valuation maps (BVMs), i.e. maps showing the intrinsic biodiversity value of subzones within a study area, would provide a useful 'intelligence system' for managers and decision makers. Such maps would need to make best use of available data sets, compiling and summarizing relevant biological and ecological information for a study area, and allocating an overall biological value to different subzones. Rather than a general strategy for protecting areas that have some ecological significance, biological valuation is a tool for calling attention to areas which have particularly high ecological or biological significance and to facilitate provision of a greater-than-usual degree of risk aversion in management of activities in such areas.

Biological valuation maps of areas located near three main harbours at the Belgian coastal zone: (a) Nieuwpoort (Lombardsijde); (b) Oostende (Oostende-East); (c) Zeebrugge (Baai van Heist). The subtidal and intertidal parts of the subzones were assessed separately. (Vanden Eede et al. 2014)[18].

Biological value is not a direct measure of ecosystem health, although areas regarded as of high biological value are often considered to be valuable providers of socio-economic goods and services and are of high quality in terms of environmental health. The main difference is, however, that biological valuation focuses on the features of species and communities themselves, and not on the contamination or the extractable/usable part of the ecosystem.

Therefore marine biological valuation provides a comprehensive concept for assessing the intrinsic value of the subzones within a study area. The biological valuation maps can also be used as baseline maps for future spatial planning in the marine environment. [19]

Biological valuation of seabed communities in Polish Exclusive Economic Zone

Recent use of the biological valuation approach

After its initial development in 2007, the biological valuation method was applied in Belgium, Portugal, Poland, the UK and Denmark. Only few case studies can be found in online publications that used this methodology after 2009. At the Bay of Biscay in the Basque continental shelf, a biological valuation map was created and used to identify biodiversity hotspots in 2011 [6]. Moreover, Vanden Eede et al. (2014)[18] continued the biological valuation of the Belgian North Sea coast, this time based on an R-script developed by the Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ).

Biological valuation vs. ecosystem service assessments

An alternative method to valuate nature is the concept of ecosystem services, which has gained strong momentum and popularity over the past 20 years[20]. Ecosystem services are commonly defined as “the benefits people obtain from ecosystems” [21] or “the direct and indirect contributions of ecosystems to human well-being” [22]. In contrast to the biological valuation method, which does not incorporate anthropogenic use, ecosystem services are therefore completely anthropocentric. In coastal and marine environments, the valuation of ecosystem services has become increasingly important[23]. Ecosystem service assessments are recognized to have a high potential for applications in marine spatial planning [24] or Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM)[25]. For example, a nation-wide assessment of coastal and marine ecosystem services was recently conducted in the UK, with the aim to contribute to a decision support system for adaptive coastal management [26]. One reason why the biological valuation method is not as often applied in decision-making contexts might be that a purely biological valuation is by definition not suitable to assess impacts of human management: "Biological valuation maps give no information on the potential impacts that any human activity could have on a certain subzone, since criteria like vulnerability and resilience are deliberately not included in the valuation scheme...". (Derous et al. 2007a) [1]. Further non-biological assessments are required to allow the use of biological valuation maps as decision-support tools for marine or coastal management.

Related articles

Valuation and assessment of biodiversity
Ecosystem services
Total Economic Value
Economic valuation of goods and services of the UK coastal and marine ecosystem
Measurements of biodiversity
Multifunctionality and Valuation in coastal zones: concepts, approaches, tools and case studies


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The main authors of this article are Meike Wege, Simone Krüger and Marion Kruse