A Step to Sustainability; MAES Mapping and Assessment of Ecosystem Services in European cities and Italy

CEESP News - By James Karimi

Photo: James Karimi

Humankind benefits in a multitude of ways from ecosystems these benefits are becoming known as ecosystem services. Ecosystem services are regularly involved in the provisioning of clean drinking water and the decomposition of wastes. In the early 2000s the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) grouped ecosystem services into four broad categories: provisioning, such as the production of food and water; regulating, such as the control of climate and disease; supporting, such as nutrient cycles and crop pollination; and cultural, such as spiritual and recreational benefits. To help inform decision-makers, many ecosystem services are being assigned economic values.

According to TEEB, ecosystem services can be categorized in four categories: Provisioning services are the products obtained from ecosystems such as food, fresh water, wood, fiber, genetic resources and medicines. Regulating services are defined as the benefits obtained from the regulation of ecosystem processes such as climate regulation, natural hazard regulation, water purification and waste management, pollination or pest control. Habitat services highlight the importance of ecosystems to provide habitat for migratory species and to maintain the viability of gene-pools. Cultural services include non-material benefits that people obtain from ecosystems such as spiritual enrichment, intellectual development, recreation and aesthetic values.

At international level, a new classification of ecosystem services is under development, the Common International Classification of Ecosystem Services (CICES) to facilitate integration of ecosystem services in environmental accounting. At EU level, a conceptual framework for Mapping and Assessment of Ecosystems and their Services (MAES) has been developed to steer a more harmonized approach to ecosystem and ecosystem services assessments across EU Member States. 

The European Union with Action 5 of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 calls Member States to map and assess the state of ecosystems and their services in their national territory with the assistance of the European Commission. A dedicated Working Group has been established under the CIF to deliver under Action 5. In line with the Millennium Ecosystem assessment (MA), the objective of the EU assessment is to provide a critical evaluation of the best available information for guiding decisions on complex public issues. The work being carried out is important for the advancement of biodiversity objectives, and also to inform the development and implementation of related policies, on water, climate, agriculture, forest, and regional planning.

Italy along with other countries has started to map ecosystems services. This article is an update on the development of that process. Furthermore, the fourth MAES report , has been published. This report provides guidance for mapping and assessing urban ecosystems and includes an indicator framework to assess the condition of urban ecosystems and services, which is used at European, Member State and local level.

However, the question is; should ecosystem services be assigned economic values? Are not ecosystem services immensely precious and beyond measure ? 


The 4Th Report of the Mapping and Assessment of Ecosystems and their Services (MAES) for urban ecosystems was published in May 2016. The EU-MAES, an initiative of the European Commission, aims to improve the knowledge and evidence base for biodiversity policy as defined under target 2 action 5 of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020. The EU Biodiversity Strategy emphasizes the value of nature for our welfare. Protected areas such as Natura 2000 sites and ecosystems inside and around the cities provide natural solutions to urban challenges. The integration of Green Infrastructures into urban policies and planning to make cities more sustainable and resilient is considered vital. The fourth MAES report provides guidance for mapping and assessing urban ecosystems and includes an indicator framework to assess the condition of urban ecosystems and services from a European to local level. The Report provides case studies from the cities of Barcelona, Cascais, Lisbon, Oeiras, Padua, Rome, Poznań, Trento, Oslo, and Utrecht which could be of interest.

Moreover, the Ministry for the Environment is providing financial support to universities and scientific societies (Italian Botanical Society and Italian Zoological Union) for the implementation of the MAES process in Italy. A preliminary collection of updated and properly detailed basic data at the national level was carried out, including ecoregions, land units, bioclimate, biogeography, potential natural vegetation and CORINE land cover at the fourth level. The Italian MAES process has been organized into the following steps:

Firstly,  the mapping of ecosystems: Through the integration of the CORINE land cover with potential natural vegetation, bioclimatic and biogeographic information, a Map of the Ecosystems of Italy was drawn at 1:100,000 scale, with 91 legend classes and counting 37 types of forests. Ecosystem types have been defined according to biogeographic and bioclimatic setting, geographic location and vegetation physiognomy. These types could properly been expanded or further merged according to specific classes of ecosystem services.

Secondly, an assessment of the conservation status of ecosystems: the assessment is based on a multi-scale model. Selected parameters are naturalness and hemeroby, coverage and spatial configuration of the ecosystem types, while potential natural vegetation is adopted as a reference model. The model also includes the evaluation of landscape conservation status. The assessment is completed for all ecosystem at national and regional level, is ongoing at the ecoregional level.

Thirdly, an assessment of the ecosystem services delivered by ecosystems: Biophysical assessment of selected ecosystem services for 5 pilot case studies. The 5 pilots include (ecosystem type: ecosystem service types, indicators): I) beech forests: provisioning service, above-ground woody biomass; regulating services, carbon sequestration and air pollution removal; cultural service, old-growth forests; II) urban green: regulating service, air pollution removal; III) olive groves: provisioning service, food production; regulating service, carbon sequestration; cultural service, extent of protected olive groves; IV) lakes: maintenance service, nursery and feeding habitats; regulating service, ecological state; cultural services, intensity of scientific monitoring and level of representation in protected areas; V) Posidonia beds: provisioning service, biomass; maintenance service, species distribution.

Then, setting priorities for ecosystems restoration: Integration between the assessment of ecosystem conservation status and information as regards related habitats of community interest (presence, number, status and trend) (ongoing at the regional level).

Followed by promoting Green Infrastructure: Definition of the ecological framework for the development of green infrastructure according to the land ecological network approach (ongoing).

Finally, the implementation of a road-map, that will be delivered to the regions (sub-national level), for the useful utilization of the products of all MAES process (points 1-5) to obtain an efficient and targeted use of European structural and investment funds 2014-2020.

To assess conservation status at the national and regional/ecoregional level small and medium scale indicators based on vegetation were used. Overall from the mapping of ecosystems emerges a medium-high landscape conservation status, although the ecosystem conservation status varies considerably from bad to medium and to high depending on the regional and ecoregional sectors.

For ecosystem services at the moment only the carbon sink of Italian forests was assessed using an interpolation procedure integrating CLC and National Forest Inventory data and specific algorithms for the estimation of forest biomass. The classification of services provided by these ecosystems follows CICES Common International Classification of Ecosystem Services version 4.3. The above Indicators for the 5 pilot studies are very important to measure and quantify the value of ecosystem services. The mapping of ecosystem services should provide a picture of the natural capital assets to preserve and set the agenda for conservation policies for ecological restoration and promote Green Infrastructures.

Conceptual framework for EU wideecosystem assessment displaying_ecosystem_services at the interface between ecosystems and socio-economic systems

Linkages between ecosystem services and human well-being. Source: MA (2005).

Ecosystem services diagram, source: metrovancouver.org

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