A retrospective assessment of marine biodiversity: a critical analysis of integration and aggregation rules
Article Full Text (PDF)


Baltic Sea
integrated assessment

How to Cite

Jernberg, S., Nygård, H., Aunins, A., Lappalainen, A., Heiskanen, A.-S., Olsson, J., Kauppila, P., Korpinen, S., Kostamo, K., & Uusitalo, L. (2019). A retrospective assessment of marine biodiversity: a critical analysis of integration and aggregation rules. Socio-Environmental Systems Modelling, 1, 16128. https://doi.org/10.18174/sesmo.2019a16128


Oceans around the world are threatened by human pressures. Ecological indicators are useful tools in understanding complex systems and their changes caused by human pressures, and the information they offer is also needed for ecosystem-based management. Integrated assessments combine information produced by several indicators at different spatial scales and thus offer a more holistic view of the status of the ecosystem. In this study, we evaluate the integration of biodiversity indicators at different spatial scales in two study areas in the Baltic Sea: Gulf of Finland and Bothnian Sea. By producing time series of the indicators and integrated assessments, we study the historical changes in the overall marine biodiversity status, and the impact of data availability, indicator selection, and choice of spatial assessment units on the status assessment. The integrated assessments are produced using the Biodiversity Assessment Tool (BEAT 3.0) and following the procedure of the HELCOM integrated assessment of biodiversity. The analysis shows that the results of the integrated assessment depend strongly on which indicators are available for the assessment, and on the chosen spatial assessment units. While the integrated assessments are a strong communication tool, their interpretation needs to be accompanied by information of indicators to avoid misleading conclusions about the marine ecosystem status.

Article Full Text (PDF)


Aroviita J., Hellsten S., Jyväsjärvi J., Järvenpää L., Järvinen M., Karjalainen S.M., Kauppila P., Keto A., Kuoppala M., Manni K., Mannio J., Mitikka S., Olin M., Perus J., Pilke A., Rask M., Riihimäki J., Ruuskanen A., Siimes K., Sutela T., Vehanen T., Vuori K-M. (2012). Ohje pintavesien ekologisen ja kemiallisen tilan luokitteluun vuosille 2012–2013 − päivitetyt arviointiperusteet ja niiden soveltaminen. Ympäristöhalinnon ohjeita 7 [In Finnish].

Borja A., Elliott M., Andersen J.H., Berg T., Carstensen J., Halpern B.S., Heiskanen A.-S., Korpinen S., Lowndes J.S.S., Martin G. & Rodriguez-Ezpeleta N.. (2016). Overview of integrative assessment of marine systems: the Ecosystem Approach in practice. Frontiers in Marine Science, 3. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2016.00020

Borja A., Prins T.C., Simboura N., Andersen J.H., Berg T., Marques J.-C., Neto J.M., Papadopoulou N., Reker J., Teixeira H. & Uusitalo L. (2014). Tales from a thousand and one ways to integrate marine ecosystem components when assessing the environmental status. Frontiers in Marine Science, 1(72). doi: 10.3389/fmars.2014.00072

Borja A. & Rodríguez J.G.. (2010). Problems associated with the ‘one-out, all-out’principle, when using multiple ecosystem components in assessing the ecological status of marine waters. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 60(8), 1143-1146.

Chuševė R., Nygård H., Vaičiūtė D., Daunys D. & Zaiko A. (2016). Application of signal detection theory approach for setting thresholds in benthic quality assessments. Ecological Indicators, 60, 420-427. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolind.2015.07.018

Conley D.J., Carstensen J., Aigars J., Axe P., Bonsdorff E., Eremina T., Haahti B.-M., Humborg C., Jonsson P., Kotta J., Lännegren C., Larsson U., Maximov A., Medina M.R., Lysiak-Pastuszak E., Remeikaitė-Nikienė N., Walve J., Wilhelms S. & Zillén L. (2011). Hypoxia Is Increasing in the Coastal Zone of the Baltic Sea. Environmental Science & Technology, 45(16), 6777-6783. doi: 10.1021/es201212r

Diekmann R., & Möllmann C. (Eds.). (2010). Integrated ecosystem assessments of seven Baltic Sea areas covering the last three decades. ICES Cooperative Research Report No. 302.

EC. (2000). Directive 2000/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2000 establishing a framework for Community action in the field of water policy. (OJ L 327, 22.12.2000, pp. 1–73).

EC. (2008). Directive 2008/56/EC of the European Praliament and of the Council establishing a framework for community action in the field of marien environmental policy (Marine Strategy Framework Directive). Official Journal of European Union L232, 12-24.

EC. (2017). COMMISSION DECISION (EU) 2017/848 of 17 May 2017 laying down criteria and methodological standards on good environmental status of marine waters and specifications and standardised methods for monitoring and assessment, and repealing Decision 2010/477/EU. Official Journal of the European Union L125/43.

Halpern B.S., Frazier M., Potapenko J., Casey K.S., Koenig K., Longo C., Lowndes J.S., Rockwood R.C., Selig E.R., Selkoe K.A. & Walbridge S. (2015). Spatial and temporal changes in cumulative human impacts on the world’s ocean. 6, 7615. doi: 10.1038/ncomms8615

Heiskanen A.-S., Berg T., Uusitalo L., Teixeira H., Bruhn A., Krause-Jensen D., Lynam C.P., Rossberg A.G., Korpinen S., Uyarra M.C. & Borja A. (2016). Biodiversity in Marine Ecosystems—European Developments toward Robust Assessments. Frontiers in Marine Science, 3(184). doi: 10.3389/fmars.2016.00184

HELCOM. (1996). Third periodic assessment of the state of the marine environment in the Baltic Sea 1989-1993. Backgroun document. In: Baltic Sea environ. Proc. No. 64B, 252 p.

HELCOM. (2009). Eutrophication in the Baltic Sea—an Integrated Thematic Assessment of the Effects of Nutrient Enrichment and Eutrophication in the Baltic Sea Region. Paper presented at the Balt Sea Environ Proc.

HELCOM. (2010). Ecosystem health of the Baltic Sea: HELCOM Initial Holistic Assessment. Baltic Sea Environment Proceedings, 122.

HELCOM. (2012). Checklist of Baltic Sea Macro-species. Baltic Sea. Environment Proceedings No. 130.

HELCOM. (2015a). Abundance of sea trout spawners and parr. HELCOM core indicator report. Online. [18/02/2018], http://www.helcom.fi/Core%20Indicators/Abundance%20of%20sea%20trout%20spawners%20and%20parr_HELCOM%20core%20indicator%202015_web%20version.pdf.

HELCOM. (2015b). Population trends and abundance of seals. HELCOM core indicator report. Online. [18/12/2017], http://www.helcom.fi/baltic-sea-trends/indicators/population-trends-and-abundance-of-seals/.

HELCOM. (2016). White-tailed eagle productivity. HELCOM core indicator report. Online. [16/01/2017], http://www.helcom.fi/baltic-sea-trends/indicators.

HELCOM. (2017a). Abundance of coastal fish key functional groups. HELCOM core indicator report. Online. [18/02/2018], http://www.helcom.fi/Core%20Indicators/Abundance%20of%20coastal%20fish%20key%20functional%20groups_HELCOM%20core%20indicator%20-%20HOLAS%20II%20component.pdf.

HELCOM. (2017b). Abundance of coastal fish key species. HELCOM core indicator report. Online. [18/02/2018], http://www.helcom.fi/Core%20Indicators/Abundance%20of%20key%20coastal%20fish%20species_HELCOM%20core%20indicator-HOLAS%20II%20component.pdf.

HELCOM. (2017c). Abundance of salmon spawners and smolt. HELCOM core indicator report. Online. [18/02/2018], http://www.helcom.fi/Core%20Indicators/Abundance%20of%20salmon%20spawners%20and%20smolt_HELCOM%20core%20indicator%20-%20HOLAS%20II%20component.pdf.

HELCOM. (2017d). Abundance of waterbirds in the breeding season. HELCOM core indicator report. Online. [18/02/2018], http://www.helcom.fi/Core%20Indicators/Abundance%20of%20waterbirds%20in%20breeding%20season_HELCOM%20core%20indicator%20-%20HOLAS%20II%20component.pdf.

HELCOM. (2017e). Abundance waterbirds in the wintering season. HELCOM core indicator report. Online. [18/02/2018], http://www.helcom.fi/Core%20Indicators/Abundance%20of%20waterbirds%20in%20wintering%20season_HELCOM%20core%20indicator%20-%20HOLAS%20II%20component.pdf.

HELCOM. (2017f). Chlorophyll a. HELCOM core indicator report. Online. [24/04/2018], http://www.helcom.fi/Core%20Indicators/Chlorophyll%20a%20-%20updated%20core%20indicator%20report_HOLAS%20II%20component.pdf.

HELCOM. (2017g). First version of the ‘State of the Baltic Sea’ report – June 2017 – to be updated in 2018. Available at: http://stateofthebalticsea.helcom.fi.

HELCOM. (2017h). The integrated assessment of biodiversity - supplementary report to the first version of the ‘State of the Baltic Sea’ report 2017. Available at: http://stateofthebalticsea.helcom.fi/about-helcom-and-the-assessment/downloads-and-data/.

HELCOM. (2017i). Zooplankton mean size and total stock. HELCOM core indicator report. Online. [24/04/2018], http://www.helcom.fi/Core%20Indicators/Zooplankton%20mean%20size%20and%20total%20stock_HELCOM%20core%20indicator%20-%20HOLAS%20II%20component.pdf.

HELCOM. (2018). State of the Baltic Sea – Second HELCOM holistic assessment 2011-2016. Baltic Sea Environment Proceedings 155.

Håkansson B., Alenius P. & Brydsten L. (1996). Physical environment in the Gulf of Bothnia. Ambio, 5-12.

ICES. (2017). Advice on fishing opportunities, catch, and effort, Baltic Sea Ecoregion. Available at: http://www.ices.dk/community/advisory-process/Pages/Latest-Advice.aspx.

Jernberg S., Lehtiniemi M. & Uusitalo L. (2017). Evaluating zooplankton indicators using signal detection theory. Ecological Indicators, 77, 14-22. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolind.2017.01.038

Kahru M., Savchuk O. P., & Elmgren R. (2007). Satellite measurements of cyanobacterial bloom frequency in the Baltic Sea: interannual and spatial variability. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 343, 15-23.

Kullenberg G. & Jacobsen T. (1981). The Baltic Sea: an outline of its physical oceanography. Marine pollution bulletin, 12(6), 183-186.

Kuosa H., Fleming-Lehtinen V., Lehtinen S., Lehtiniemi M., Nygård H., Raateoja M., Raitaniemi J., Tuimala J., Uusitalo L. & Suikkanen S. (2017). A retrospective view of the development of the Gulf of Bothnia ecosystem. Journal of Marine Systems, 167, 78-92. doi: http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jmarsys.2016.11.020

Leppäranta M., & Myrberg K. (2009). Physical oceanography of the Baltic Sea. Springer, Chicester, UK, pp. 378.

Moe S.J., Lyche Solheim A., Soszka H., Gołub M., Hutorowicz A., Kolada A., Picińska-Fałtynowicz J. & Białokoz W. (2015). Integrated assessment of ecological status and misclassification of lakes: The role of uncertainty and index combination rules. Ecological Indicators, 48, 605-615. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolind.2014.08.018

Murray C., & Nygård H. (2018, June 13). NIVA-Denmark/BalticBOOST: BalticBOOST Integrated Biodiversity Assessment Tool (Version v1.0.1b). Zenodo. http://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.1288315

Nemati H., Shokri M.R., Ramezanpour Z., Ebrahimi Pour G.H., Muxika I. & Borja Á. (2018). Sensitivity of indicators matters when using aggregation methods to assess marine environmental status. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 128, 234-239. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2018.01.031

Nygård H., Murray C. , Andersen J. H. , Martin G. , Torn K., & Korpinen S. (2018). BEAT 3.0 – a Tool for Integrated Biodiversity Assessments. Journal of Open Research Software, 6(1), 19. doi: http://doi.org/10.5334/jors.226

Ojaveer H. & Eero M. (2011). Methodological Challenges in Assessing the Environmental Status of a Marine Ecosystem: Case Study of the Baltic Sea. PLOS ONE, 6(4), e19231. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0019231

Olsson J., Tomczak M.T., Ojaveer H., Gårdmark A., Põllumäe A., Müller-Karulis B., Ustups D., Dinesen G.E., Peltonen H., Putnis I., Szymanek L., Simm M., Heikinheimo O., Gasyukov P., Axe P. & Bergström L. (2015). Temporal development of coastal ecosystems in the Baltic Sea over the past two decades. ICES Journal of Marine Science, 72(9), 2539-2548. doi: 10.1093/icesjms/fsv143

Perttilä M., Niemistö L. & Mäkelä K. (1995). Distribution, development and total amounts of nutrients in the Gulf of Finland. Estuarine, coastal and shelf science, 41(3), 345-360.

Perus J., Bonsdorff E., Bäck S., Lax H.-G., Villnäs A. & Westberg V. (2007). Zoobenthos as indicators of ecological status in coastal brackish waters: a comparative study from the Baltic Sea. AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment, 36(2), 250-256.

Probst W.N., & Lynam C.P. (2016). Integrated assessment results depend on aggregation method and framework structure – A case study within the European Marine Strategy Framework Directive. Ecological Indicators, 61, 871-881. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolind.2015.10.040

Queirós A.M., Strong J.A., Mazik K., Carstensen J., Bruun J., Somerfield P.J., Bruhn A., Ciavatta S., Flo E., Bizsel N., Özaydinli M., Chuševė R., Muxika I., Nygård H., Papadopoulou N., Pantazi M. & Krause-Jensen D. (2016). An Objective Framework to Test the Quality of Candidate Indicators of Good Environmental Status. Frontiers in Marine Science, 3(73). doi: 10.3389/fmars.2016.00073

Raateoja M.. (2013). Deep-water oxygen conditions in the Bothnian Sea. Boreal Environment Research, 18, 235–249.

Rossberg A.G., Uusitalo L., Berg T., Zaiko A., Chenuil A., Uyarra M.C., Borja A. & Lynam C.P. (2017). Quantitative criteria for choosing targets and indicators for sustainable use of ecosystems. Ecological Indicators, 72, 215-224. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolind.2016.08.005

Sarmento H., Montoya J.M., Vázquez-Domínguez E., Vaqué D. & Gasol J.M. (2010). Warming effects on marine microbial food web processes: how far can we go when it comes to predictions? Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 365(1549), 2137-2149.

Teixeira H., Berg T., Uusitalo L., Fürhaupter K., Heiskanen A.-S., Mazik K., Lynam C.P., Neville S., Rodriguez J.G., Papadopoulou N., Moncheva S., Churilova T., Kryvenko O., Krause-Jensen D., Zaiko A., Veríssimo H., Pantazi M., Carvalho S., Patrício J., Uyarra M.C. & Borja À. (2016). A Catalogue of Marine Biodiversity Indicators. Frontiers in Marine Science, 3(207). doi: 10.3389/fmars.2016.00207

Uusitalo L., Blanchet H., Andersen J., Beauchard O., Berg T., Bianchelli S., Cantafaro A., Carstensen J., Carugati L., Cochrane S., Danovaro R., Heiskanen A.-S., Karvinen V., Moncheva S., Murray C., Neto J., Nygård H., Pantazi M., Papadopoulou N., Simboura N., Srėbalienė G., Uyarra M. & Borja A. (2016). Indicator-based assessment of marine biological diversity – lessons from 10 case studies across the European Seas. Frontiers in Marine Science, 3(159). doi: 10.3389/fmars.2016.00159

Uusitalo L., Fleming-Lehtinen V., Hällfors H., Jaanus A., Hällfors S. & London L. (2013). A novel approach for estimating phytoplankton biodiversity. ICES Journal of Marine Science, 70(2), 408-417. doi: 10.1093/icesjms/fss198

Vahtera E., Conley D.J., Gustafsson B.G., Kuosa H., Pitkänen H., Savchuk O.P., Tamminen T., Viitasalo M., Voss M., Wasmund N. & Wulff F. (2007). Internal Ecosystem Feedbacks Enhance Nitrogen-fixing Cyanobacteria Blooms and Complicate Management in the Baltic Sea. AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment, 36(2), 186-194. doi: 10.1579/0044-7447(2007)36[186:IEFENC]2.0.CO;2

Van Hoey G., Borja A., Birchenough S., Buhl-Mortensen L., Degraer S., Fleischer D., Kerckhof F., Magni P., Muxika I., Reiss H., Schröder A. & Zettler M.L. (2010). The use of benthic indicators in Europe: From the Water Framework Directive to the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 60(12), 2187-2196. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2010.09.015

Worm B., Barbier E.B., Beaumont N., Duffy J.E., Folke C., Halpern B.S., Jackson J.B.C., Lotze H.K., Micheli F., Palumbi S.R., Sala E., Selkoe K.A., Stachowicz J.J. & Watson R. (2006). Impacts of Biodiversity Loss on Ocean Ecosystem Services. Science, 314(5800), 787-790. doi: 10.1126/science.1132294

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.