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Developing the AQUACROSS Assessment Framework

Developing the AQUACROSS Assessment Framework

Deliverable 3.2

Aquatic biodiversity is declining worldwide and faster than in terrestrial systems. To better protect these vulnerable species and safeguard the valuable services they provide and from which humans depend, is a key goal of the AQUACROSS project. To do this, it is necessary to understand both natural and social systems, as well as their interlinkages, so we can provide better management responses.

In lieu of this work, the AQUACROSS consortium published a report describing an analytical Assessment Framework, which aims to integrate and understand these complex interlinkages between natural and social systems, to be applied in real-world case studies in the project. The Assessment Framework covers the various steps needed to assess local aquatic management examples in a holistic manner—from the definition of policy challenges and the setting of objectives to the identification of opportunities, the screening of innovative responses and the design, implementation and assessment of alternative courses of action. All these elements are integrated into the comprehensive framework, which aims to capture all relevant interactions at stake. The report is available for download.

The AQUACROSS Deliverable 3.2 presents a common framework for the assessment of aquatic ecosystems needed for the development of integrated management concepts. This framework integrates ecological and socio-economic aspects in one analytical approach, and considers relevant aspects for management of aquatic ecosystems, specifically in relation to resilience and uncertainty. Furthermore, the Assessment Framework also reflects a joint understanding of the key impacts on aquatic ecosystems between scientists, policy-makers and stakeholders and among ecosystem types (freshwater, coastal, and marine). Insights from a stakeholder workshop held in Berlin (March 2016) and the first AQUACROSS Forum held in Alcalá de Henares (Madrid, June 2016) greatly benefitted this process.

This report, led by Fundación IMDEA Agua (link is external), represents a living document that facilitates synergies and identifies critical linkages between the different elements of the project:

  • The analysis of links between drivers of aquatic ecosystem change and relevant pressures.
  • The assessment of causalities between biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services, as well as their abiotic components.
  • The impact of drivers on the status and trends of biodiversity, ecosystem functions and services.
  • The development of indicators to capture all relevant social-ecological-economic dimensions at the case-study level and beyond.
  • The design and implementation of ecosystem-based management approaches, as innovative responses to enhance the status of aquatic ecosystems, so as to achieve meaningful policy objectives (namely the EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy and other global biodiversity targets).

The Assessment Framework will be tested in the eight AQUACROSS case studies (link is external) and applied to a suite of innovative and applicable management solutions for aquatic ecosystems. The framework, thus, follows an ‘idea to application’ approach, building on existing knowledge and generating innovative responses to policy coordination challenges. In addition, this Assessment Framework will be reviewed and refined throughout the project’s duration. For that purpose, the development of the framework and, therefore, the investigation into the specific elements for assessment, is (i) mindful of the practical challenges to be faced in terms of applicability (e.g., linking policy and science in the three aquatic realms); (ii) makes the most out of existing knowledge to enhance current Ecosystem-based Management practice; and (iii) ensures relevance.


Gómez et al. (2016) Developing the AQUACROSS Assessment Framework. Deliverable 3.2, AQUACROSS, European Union's Horizon 2020 Framework Programme for Research and Innovation Grant Agreement No. 642317.

Carlos M. Gómez (UAH and IMDEA)
Gonzalo Delacámara (IMDEA)
Sonja Jähnig, Simone D. Langhans, Sami Domisch and Virgilio Hermoso (FVB-IGB)
GerJan Piet (WUR)
Javier Martínez-López (BC3)
Peter Reichert, Nele Schuwirth (EAWAG)
Thomas Hein, Florian Pletterbauer and Andrea Funk (BOKU)
António Nogueira, Ana I. Lillebø, Michiel Daam and Heliana Teixeira (UAVR)
Leonie Robinson and Fiona Culhane (ULIV)
Maja Schlüter and Romina Martin (SRC)
Alejandro Iglesias-Campos, Ana Luisa Barbosa, Juan Arévalo-Torres (IOC-UNESCO)
Tim O’Higgins (UCC)
180 pp.
Project ID
Table of Contents

1 Part I: What To Assess
1.1 Introduction
1.1.1 The AQUACROSS Assessment Framework as an integrative and cooperative effort
1.1.2 AQUACROSS Assessment Framework as a living document
1.1.3 How the AQUACROSS Assessment Framework links to the different elements of the project
1.2 Building on (and overcoming) previous assessment frameworks
1.3 What is to be assessed
1.3.1 Social-ecological aquatic systems as complex and adaptive ones
1.3.2 The integration of knowledge as a means to truly integrated responses
1.3.3 Co-building scenarios between stakeholders and researchers: business as usual versus new policy responses
1.3.4 Ecosystem-based management approaches taking centre stage
1.3.5 The identification and structuring of policy objectives and the clearcut distinction between objectives and assessment criteria
1.3.6 A three-tier assessment on the basis of different criteria
1.3.7 The demand for aquatic ecosystem services delivery and abiotic outputs
1.3.8 The supply of aquatic ecosystem services and abiotic outputs and how they are determined by biodiversity levels
1.3.9 From datasets to data flows; moving from measurement to analysis
1.4 How to read this document: What you will find and what you won’t
1.4.1 Open questions to be assessed throughout the project
1.4.2 Several knowledge gaps
2 Part II. How To Assess
2.1 Framing the decision context: baseline scenarios
2.1.1 Introduction: why scenarios are critical
2.1.2 Building scenarios: making the AQUACROSS Architecture operational
2.1.3 Co-building baseline and policy scenarios to progress towards ecosystem-based management
2.1.4 The baseline scenario: representing the social-ecological system as a whole
2.1.5 Framing the decision context
2.1.6 The baseline scenario: where to look at to identify policy challenges
2.1.7 Integration of resilience principles in building the baseline
2.1.8 Science focus: models and tools for a stepwise building of baseline and EBM policy scenarios of biodiversity
2.2 Identifying objectives and deficits
2.2.1 Introduction
2.2.2 Setting objectives: contributing to EU policy objectives
2.3 Assessment criteria: a key element to assessing baselines and policy options
2.3.1 Assessing baselines and policy scenarios
2.3.2 Assessing the environmental and welfare outcomes of baselines and policy scenarios
2.3.3 Assessing governance: growing to the challenge of making EBM happen
2.4 Characterising drivers and pressures affecting aquatic ecosystems
2.4.1 Introduction
2.4.2 Conceptual frameworks for exploring relationships between social processes, drivers, pressures and ecosystem state
2.4.3 Indicators of drivers, pressures and ecosystem components/state
2.4.4 Methods to analyse links between drivers, pressures and ecosystem state
2.5 Understanding causal links between biodiversity, ecosystem functions, and services
2.5.1 Working framework: from state to benefits
2.5.2 Literature review of links between biodiversity, ecosystem functions, and services
2.5.3 Identification of relevant indicators and associated metrics
2.5.4 Methods to analyse causal links
2.6 Crosscutting issues
2.6.1 Introduction: going beyond data and metrics – information flows for analytical purposes
2.6.2 Dealing with uncertainty
2.6.3 Tackling multiple scales
3 The Way Ahead
4 References

assessment, framework, resilience, uncertainty, ecosystem-based management, policy, objectives, case studies, complex adaptive systems, ecosystem services, human well-being,