Ecosystem services (ES) link nature with human well-being. The economy, health and survival depend upon natural resources. Health problems, natural disasters and high costs for technical replacement of natural regulating functions increase the need to adopt a broader view and strategy on resource use.
The Ecosystem services approach offers a pragmatic, rational approach to nature management and an opportunity to sustainably manage natural capital for human benefits. The societal demand for regulating services to cope with growing risks of lowered ecosystem functioning is growing, especially in coastal zones and estuaries.
TIDE presents an overview of demand and supply of ES in four North Sea estuaries (Elbe, Weser, Humber, Scheldt), including maps of many estuarine ecosystem services.
ES demand in the four estuaries is very similar, due to the fact that these estuaries are both ecological as socio-economic very similar. A remarkable difference is the lower demand for sedimentation-erosion regulation by biological mediation, extreme water current reduction and landscape maintenance services in the Humber estuary, due to its naturally extreme turbidities and fluid mud conditions, combined with lower dredging requirements compared to the other estuaries.
The supply by habitat is also comparable among estuaries, and most service supplies are also similar along the salinity gradient. Using the scores of supply importance by habitats, trade-offs and synergies, historical value estimates, and impacts of estuarine management measures on ES are provided. The provision of bundled ecosystem services requires the entire gradient of habitats. Many services, essential for regulation and support of the estuarine system, are provided by habitats with lower direct provisioning service supplies, such as marshes, mudflats and shallow water habitats. Steep intertidal habitats, where ecological functioning is hampered, provide the least ecosystem services.
The TIDE results can be used in different fields of estuarine management.
- Improvement of knowledge on ES in general, addressing of knowledge gaps and further pooling of expertise.
- For the implementation of measures: which habitats should be maintained/ restored in order to stimulate certain ES, or for obtaining the maximum supply of the entire bundle of ES.
- For decision making processes: which ES at which location are important or less important for the vision on a certain estuary or for the respective society/residents.
- For estuarine governance: synergies and conflicting aims (with other processes) can be deduced.
There are however important challenges in the related ecological research, in the valuation of ES as well as in the governance to obtain a sound ecosystem based planning and management. However, the current knowledge and this ES assessment provide ample reasons to avoid negative effects from single-benefit directed estuarine measures in the future. The methodology, relying almost entirely on participation by estuarine management experts and involved scientists, has proven to yield useful results, and the ecosystem service supply matrix could be used to map ecosystem services in similar estuaries.
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