Ecosystems provide many services to humans, with marine systems contributing a significant proportion of those. These services include provision of food and raw materials, climate regulation and opportunities for recreation, amongst others.

This paper describes the work that progresses the understanding of socio-ecological systems from the perspective of exploring how the supply of ecosystem services might vary with changes in the state of ecosystem components. A new assessment approach was developed and tested to assess the capacity of marine ecosystems to supply services.

The starting point was an assessment that drew on an understanding of ecosystem state-service relationships, and that was extended to incorporate operational, policy-relevant ecosystem assessment information at European regional sea scales in response to the requirements of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020.

The assessment consists of three key steps: 1) identifying all the instances where a marine ecosystem component can potentially contribute to the supply of a marine ecosystem service; 2) developing a critical pathway analysis to identify the major ecosystem components contributing to the supply of a given service; 3) interpreting available information on the state and trends of these major contributing components with knowledge of the ecosystem state-service relationship, to assess the ecosystem’s capacity for service supply and its direction of change.

The authors conclude that this approach captures the sustainability of ecosystem service supply capacity through retaining the connection with the state of the ecosystem and can help to inform management decisions and track the effectiveness of environmental policies.

Culhane et al. (2020) Assessing the capacity of European regional seas to supply ecosystem services using marine status assessments. Ocean and Coastal Management 190: 105154.