Conditions and trends of ecosystem services: comparisons between sites

Authors: João Carlos Marques, Fuensanta Salas Herrera, Joana Mateus Patrício, João Magalhães Neto, Nils Ladegaard and Sven Erik Jørgensen (Partner 4)


Framework of ecosystem services

Human well-being is a multidimensional, complex and context dependent concept, which is connected to ecosystem services in multiple and complex ways. To assess this connection it is usually necessary to utilise a participatory approach to understand people’s perception about ecosystem services and their evolution through time, along with the gathering of primary and secondary objective data on provisioning, regulating and recreational services.


The ecosystem services conceptual framework defines driver as any natural or human-induced factor that directly or indirectly causes a change in an ecosystem. A direct driver unequivocally influences ecosystem processes and therefore can be identified and measured to differing degrees of accuracy. Indirect drivers operate more diffusely, from a distance, often by altering one or more direct drivers. The indirect drivers of change are primarily demographic, economic, socio-political, scientific and technological, and cultural and religious; the direct drivers are primarily physical, chemical and biological. On the other hand, endogenous drivers are those under the direct control of a decision-maker at a certain level, while exogenous drivers are not.

The scale of a driver describes the typical extent (in space) or duration (in time) over which it has its impact.

Evaluation of conditions and trends of each study site

It was attempted to place emphasis on evaluating the condition and trends of ecosystem services at the three scales of the assessment. It was assumed that an important component of assessing condition is sustainability. Therefore, we settled on the following definition of the condition of an ecosystem service: it is the current level of the service relatively to the level at which the service could be maximized in a sustainable way . This definition places an emphasis on the status of the “stock” of the service. The trend of the condition was defined as the overall change in the condition over the latest years and trying to look into the next 10 years. If the condition appeared to be better in past years than is likely to be 10 years into the future the trend was considered negative, and the trend was classified as positive if the reverse situation occurred. For provisioning services we also tried to analyse the trend of the production (“flow”) of the service, and for recreation we also tried to analyse the trend of the demand for the service.



Oued Laou system (Morocco) was assessed separately for each part of the basin due to high quality information gathered during the project. This exercise allowed us to produce more detailed knowledge about the services on each part of the system. Food production on the medium part of the basin had “fair” condition and “negative” trend because cultivated areas are small, the productivity does not increase in latest years, people are loosing interest on earlier important fruit trees, and there are clear signals of abandonment of agriculture practices on the area. Goats are used but have a strong negative impact on environment. The lower part of the basin showed also “fair” food production due to increasing demand of food with population growth. The trend is “negative” due to assets (agriculture products and fish) overexploitation and decreasing production per capita.

Fuel-wood stock on low basin is “poor/bad” due to low number of timber tree existing there, and the trend is “stable” because is difficult to get worst.

Water quality decreased from higher parts to lower parts of river basin mainly due to overexploitation observed here and the absence of treatment facilities near big population centres (ammonium showed higher values downstream big towns). The trend was “negative” on lower part of basin due to severe increase of urban population (permanent and tourists) on littoral area.

Erosion/protection showed condition degradation toward the sea because erosion processes increased on this direction. All parts showed a “negative” trend although with different causes: a) illegal deforestation and land abandonment after cannabis culture in mountains; b) poor or inexistent protection of agriculture soils on middle basin; and c) deficient protection to cultivated areas on low basin and to dunes system on littoral area. The general trend is worsening because illegal cultivation of cannabis is a high profitable activity with difficult control by authorities; the increase of arable land is not followed by implementation of protection measures and land abandonment is frequent; and also due to lack of protection capacity against occupancy and erosion of dunes system.

Pollution/abatement decreased condition from the high part to low part of system due to lack of treatment capacity of garbage produced in big towns (medium and low parts of basin), and trend is “negative” in medium and low parts mainly due to the tendency for urban population increase.

Biological diversity condition, concerning the avifauna, micro-mammals, herpetofauna terrestrial and aquatic macroinvertebrates, and the vegetation, was “good/excellent” in high and medium parts but “fair” in low part due to high anthropogenic pressure observed here. Trend was “negative” to all parts due to increase of illegal deforestation in mountains (although it was good for animals a decrease to floral diversity is foreseeable); deforestation for agriculture purposes and increase of human pressure over small animals (e.g. lizards) in middle part; and human impact and fishing overexploitation in low part and marine area.

Recreation/tourism service is nearly inexistent in high and medium parts of river basin, “poor/bad” condition, and tendency is to rest the same in future. Although the service exists in low part of Laou basin, “good/excellent” condition, the trend is “negative” because of the lack of facilities and uncontrolled increase of summer tourism that generates high anthropogenic pressure to the area.


Berkoukech and Bouterfess basins area (Tunisia) showed a “fair” condition to food production since agriculture is restricted by the small size of land parcels, domestic animals are present but in reduced number per family, and fisheries employ more people in summer. Trend was “stable” because the size of land parcels unviable mechanisation of agriculture and consequently also the increase of profits from this activity; higher number of domestic animals also demands more time dedicated to them out on the mountains; and people are usually employed in fishing activities only during summer period. Due to low profits, men get employed in fishing activities during summer and leave collecting activities during this period to women, or emigrate searching for higher salaries staying elder and women in charge of house keeping.

Wood fuel condition was considered “good/excellent” because is used on house heating and cooking, showing a “negative” trend due to the slower turnover of this resource in relation to exploitation.

Water quality condition was “good/excellent” because it’s an asset very abundant here, being inclusively channelled out of the region to supply other areas. Trend is “stable” because the exploitation is not risking the water supply to the area.

Erosion/protection condition was “fair” because of frequent ground sliding occurring in mountain area. Trend is “negative” due to low intervention of populations to avoid these events to occur. Although people have conscience about the problem they do not act due to lack of money.

Biological diversity and recreation/tourism show “good/excellent” condition and “stable” trend due to people’s conscience about importance of preserving natural resources. Surveys on biological components showed high diversity concerning terrestrial or aquatic macrofauna, and high preservation condition of terrestrial and marine vegetation. Authorities often interfere, having some actions either on creation of new facilities (e.g. beach support facilities) or in surveillance of forests and control of it exploitation.


Ichkeul Lake area (Tunisia) has a “fair” condition to water quality due to abundance, management, and absence of treatment systems. Trend is “negative” due to impact caused by latest dry years and contamination from surrounding agricultural areas. Water management and dams’ construction on the region decreased the freshwater flow to the lake; water is channelled out of the area to driest areas in south.

Pollution/abatement was considered in “good/excellent” condition, although some reasonable concentrations of nitrates and ammonium in the water, chlorophyll was not high and oligotrophic conditions were observed. Accumulations of heavy metals were observed but not in high concentrations, only zinc but in a small and localised area. Trend was not evident with the available information.

Biological diversity was in “good/excellent” condition but trend can be “negative”, although this is a protected area the hydraulic management starts to impact negatively fauna and flora depending from the lake system.


Rosetta branch of Nile river (Egypt) presented “fair” condition and “negative” trend to food production mainly due to deterioration of natural conditions of soil and water. There is an overexploitation of fisheries and agriculture lands were occupied by habitation areas. Fuel-wood is “good/excellent” condition and “stable” trend because palm trees area is considerable and continuously increased.

Water quality is “poor/bad” due to intense use of water resources and lack of efficient water treatment infrastructures (e.g. water partial treated from domestic and industrial use and untreated water from agricultural use). Trend is “stable” because this service will remain as it is unless some deep changes occur.

Erosion/protection condition was “fair”. Coastline erosion was more them evident over last years due reduction of sediments input from the river, which was caused by river damming. Trend is “negative” due to irreversibility of the process, and lack of efficient protective measures to coastal area.

Pollution/abatement and biological diversity were in “poor/bad” condition mainly due to anthropogenic activity. There is overpopulation on the area, producing equivalent waste from their activities that is directly released on nature without adequate treatment, resulting from this general higher level of annoying products them admissible to water and air. These people need goods for living, which can not be supplied unless overexploitation of natural resources (e.g. agriculture, fisheries), contributing for dramatic decrease of fish stocks observed to coastal water. Also pollution is responsible for biodiversity reduction, in freshwater and marine environments.

Recreation/tourism was in “fair” condition because cultural and recreational phenomena presently offered could be higher was not the lack of preservation affecting it. Trend is “negative”, tourism is adversely affected by running degradation of historical places.


The Maremma Regional Park (Italy) presented “good/excellent” condition to food production service mainly because of high industrialised agriculture and cattle production. Trend is “stable” because no reductions are expected to those items. Although herbivorous production and agriculture intensity should decrease to reduce overexploitation risk, it doesn’t happen due to money that income to park administration.

Fuel-wood and water quality were in “fair” condition basically due to one reason, saline water intrusion. Timber production is lower when compared with other areas in Tuscany due to pinewood unhealthy situation. Apparently saline water intrusion is declining the pines health, contributing to “negative” trend registered, and persisting if no changes are implemented to water management inside park area.

Erosion/protection presented “poor/bad” condition. Erosion of Ombrone river mouth and its left side adjacent sandy beach is an ongoing process, mainly due to reduction on sedimentary charge of the river caused by damming and reforestation of inland mountains. Trend is “negative” due to lack of mitigation and protective action for the problem, but most of all this can be an equilibrium reestablishment since accretion of Ombrone mouth occurred in the past due to opposite reasons.

Pollution/abatement was in “good/excellent” condition and “stable” trend, because it is a protected area, far from pollutant industries, with restricted number of inhabitants, and controlled circulation of products and people (although number of visitors can be high they are usually civilised and concerned by natural environment). Marine waters nearby showed also high quality, proved by presence of healthy seagrass beds (Posidonia oceanica ) free of important concentrations of concerning elements (e.g. heavy metals).

Biological diversity was high, “good/excellent” condition, mainly due to limited anthropogenic pressure to some areas. Trend is “negative” due to increase in coastal erosion and anthropogenic pressure (trampling), decreasing biodiversity in littoral areas.

Recreation/tourism was in “good/excellent” condition. This is much appreciated area due to environmental and cultural conditions it offers to visitors (e.g. bathing, tracking, contact with nature and history). Although some restriction should be imposed to people’s mobility and number inside the park area this is not happening apparently due to monetary compensation.


Segura river basin (Spain) final part is a plain characterised by intensive agriculture practices. Those practices gave to site a “good/excellent” condition to food production, with “stable” trend in future. Also because of those, water quality presented “poor/bad” condition and “negative” trend due to worsening perspectives.

Pollution/abatement presented “poor/bad” condition mainly due to organic matter enrichment that resulted in considerable eutrophication levels. Trend is “stable” due to agricultural interest present in the area, keeping present high level of nutrients concentration in water. This feature was also confirmed by increasing density of seagrasses with increasing distance to Segura river mouth.

Biological diversity presented “fair” condition, with reduction in number of species due to strong anthropogenic impact, either by agriculture practices, trampling from tourists, or spread of invasive introduced plants (Carpobrotus and Pelargonium ) infesting Alicante dunes. Trend “stable” can be expected if no changes came introduced to the system.

Recreation/tourism was in “good/excellent” condition because of excellent bathing and marine recreational conditions. Trend is “positive” because of good infrastructures offered for tourism activity development.


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