A study to project practical definitions of ecosystem 'structure' and 'function' that can be applied to marine monitoring and surveillance across a variety of scales (from species and different trophic levels through to biotopes, habitats, ecosystems and regional seas). This involved reviewing the current understanding of these concepts and scoring different approaches against criteria such as practicality, cost-effectiveness, importance and level of consensus.
The overall objectives of the work were:
* To arrive at reasoned definitions of 'structure' and 'function' at a level that can guide the balanced selection of ecosystem monitoring and surveillance parameters; and
* To determine if the definitions arrived at can be applied at a variety of scales and whether they can support a framework for UK marine monitoring.
There are currently a range of different understandings for the concepts of ecosystem structure and function, including and understanding based on the biological traits of the species present, a consideration of both the abiotic or biotic features present; concepts that incorporate the tropic structure of an ecosystem, or the goods and services approach. The study concluded that different concepts are useful at different points of the monitoring and management cycle and can help to define the most appropriate indicators. It is therefore possible to have a nested series of definitions that promote the ecosystem approach.
Stakeholder consultation was a core part of this work, and involved working with a range of institutions to obtain feedback on the suitability of different definitions. A stakeholder workshop was held to discuss the key issues and to arrive at the next steps, to take the understanding of ecosystem structure and function further into practical monitoring.