Ecological quality assessment: A framework to report ecosystems quality and their dynamics from reference conditions

Type Article
Date 2023-12
Language English
Author(s) Sturbois AnthonyORCID1, 2, 3, de Cáceres MiquelORCID4, Bifolchi Aline5, Bioret Frédéric6, Boyé AurélienORCID7, Gauthier Olivier3, Grall Jacques3, Grémare Antoine8, Labrune Céline9, Robert Alexandre10, Schaal Gauthier3, Desroy NicolasORCID10
Affiliation(s) 1 : VivArmor Nature, Ploufragan, France
2 : Réserve naturelle nationale de la Baie de Saint‐Brieuc, Hillion, France
3 : Laboratoire des Sciences de l'Environnement Marin (LEMAR) UMR 6539 CNRS/UBO/IRD/IFREMER, Plouzané ,France
4 : Ecological and Forestry Applications Research Centre (CREAF) Campus de Bellaterra, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain
5 : Réserve naturelle régionale des landes et marais de Glomel, Glomel ,France
6 : Institut de Géoarchitecture Université de Bretagne Occidentale, Brest ,France
7 : Ifremer, Centre de Bretagne DYNECO, Laboratory of Coastal Benthic Ecology, Plouzané ,France
8 : Université de Bordeaux CNRS, Bordeaux INP, UMR 5805, Environnements et Paléoenvironnements Océaniques et Continentaux (EPOC), Pessac ,France
9 : CNRS, Sorbonne Université UMR 8222 Laboratoire d'Écogéochimie des Environnements Benthiques (LECOB), Banyuls‐sur‐Mer ,France
10 : Ifremer Laboratoire Environnement et Ressources Bretagne nord, Dinard ,France
Source Ecosphere (2150-8925) (Wiley), 2023-12 , Vol. 14 , N. 12 , P. e4726 (21p.)
DOI 10.1002/ecs2.4726
WOS© Times Cited 1
Keyword(s) BACI, ecological dynamic regime, ecological quality status, ecological trajectory analysis, experimental design, impact studies, recovering, restoration, shifting baselines

Worldwide, ecosystems are suffering important taxonomic and functional modifications in response to anthropogenic disturbances, operating at multiple spatial and temporal scales. Awareness on biodiversity losses has led to the adoption of conservation policies and the development of programs devoted to the conservation and the restoration of terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecosystems. The assessment of the ecological health of ecosystems requires measuring and characterizing restoration or degradation dynamics and their consequences on the ecological quality with respect to reference conditions defined pragmatically as conservation targets. Methodological innovations, in terms of data collection, analysis, and visualization, have an important influence on the ability of ecologists to understand biodiversity changes. The assessment of the quality of ecosystems with respect to reference conditions requires to address, notably, three main challenges: the definition of reference conditions, the assessment of the degree of achievement of conservation objectives, and the qualitative and quantitative characterization of recovering and departing patterns. We propose here the ecological quality assessment (EQA) framework as a data‐driven approach to track ecological quality focusing on the distance of the tested stations with respect to a chosen reference envelope using fuzzy logic and trajectory analysis. We take advantage of those analytical tools to propose a general and flexible multivariate framework by quantifying the achievement of reference conditions, measuring restoration and degradation dynamics when temporal series are available, and representing and synthesizing this information. To take into account the natural spatiotemporal variability of sites considered as reference, we gave two variants to our framework: a state‐based variant when no temporal replications are available and a trajectory‐based variant specially devoted to compare whole trajectories to a trajectory reference envelope defined by a set of reference trajectories. These two complementary approaches were illustrated through two terrestrial and marine ecological applications using the R package “ecotraj” in order to evidence ecological observations that meet conservation objectives from those that do not meet them. EQA constitutes a flexible framework for the assessment and reporting of ecosystem quality, including restoration and degradation dynamics adaptable to multiple questions in the different fields of ecology and conservation.

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Sturbois Anthony, de Cáceres Miquel, Bifolchi Aline, Bioret Frédéric, Boyé Aurélien, Gauthier Olivier, Grall Jacques, Grémare Antoine, Labrune Céline, Robert Alexandre, Schaal Gauthier, Desroy Nicolas (2023). Ecological quality assessment: A framework to report ecosystems quality and their dynamics from reference conditions. Ecosphere, 14(12), e4726 (21p.). Publisher's official version : , Open Access version :