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Two papers are bing developed for publication:

  1. Purpose and need for a MEASO (policy journal)
  2. Scientific strategy for delivering a MEASO (science journal)

The discussion paper and its appendix presented at the MEASO Conference in April 2018 will provide a foundation for these two papers, taking into account comments received prior to and during the conference.

Some summary points from the discussion paper are included here for initial background.


MEASO draws on three pillars of scientific activities - observations, ecology (theory and responses), and modelling and analytical methods (see science network).

An assessment of status and trends of habitats, species and foodwebs needs to be presented in a manner suitable for use by end-users, including scientists, non-government bodies and policy-makers (see science into policy).  Harmonisation of language across different science groups and end-users will be needed in this process.  For many policy forums, the types of assessments they need fall into six inter-related 'dimensions' of ecosystems:


Physical Environment

Biologically relevant attributes of the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere, and geosphere, including physics and chemistry, e.g. temperature, sea ice cover, geomorphology, winds, currents, pH, oxygen, nutrients.


Species Pool

This could include concepts of species richness and diversity.  In an operational sense, it would be desirable to include attributes of the realised species pool relevant to the likelihood of finding different taxa in the assessment area.  This likelihood of occurrence would including existing distributional range (within and outside the assessment area), habitability of different environments in the area, dispersal capability and connectivity of areas, and potential survivorship in different areas.  Components of the realised species pool would include consideration of resident species, migratory species, vagrants and invasives.


Food web / assemblage structure and function

The relative importance of different taxa and/or functions of the system, which may include consideration of functional groups and key species (such as those for harvesting or for conservation and recovery).


Energetics and production

Attributes of the ecosystem that relate to the carbon cycle, carbon sequestration, and the passage of energy through the food web.  These include primary production; transfer efficiency; metabolism, activity, respiration; carbon export.


Frequency of extreme years & different environmental/climate modes

Different environmental modes, e.g. positive or negative Southern Annular Mode, cause different behaviours of ecosystems.  Similarly, years of extreme conditions, such as excessive or little sea ice in summer or winter respectively, can cause shifts in production, seasonal phenologies and/or great success or failure in breeding.


Human forces

Human forces include human activities that have direct or indirect effects on the ecosystem in the assessment area, the ability for governance regimes to manage the activities, and local and global incentives for undertaking activities.  This would also include activities that are external to the assessment area but impact on the area, such as for migratory species or the movement of p etc.

These dimensions are not independent.  Change in one is likely to be correlated to change in at least one other.  How the dimensions are changing together, and the rates of change, will alert policy makers on the types of policy/management responses that may be needed.

Attributes of a MEASO

The MEASO framework is designed to be used at spatial scales relevant to management, e.g. the spatial extent of a fishery, a marine reserve or a specific management area.  An ecosystem assessment needs to be tailored to the policy requirements for the SO, and will be refined according to the specific requirements, data and tools available for of the assessed area.  Thus, a MEASO is likely to have many areas with individual assessments, the outcomes directly relating to the objectives of end-users.

An individual assessment needs to be based on metrics

  1. that are relevant to measuring progress towards achieving policy objectives, but NOT summarising progress against the policy objectives;
  2. that are, as far as possible, quantitative, in order to be useful for inclusion in management strategies and/or evaluating the performance of different management options;
  3. for which reference levels can be identified theoretically or as measurable baselines; and
  4. for which thresholds (conditions to be avoided) may be identified, if needed.

Metrics may be refined, deleted or added as assessments evolve and/or data and tools become available. 

Where possible, estimates of change in the metrics will be made relative to baseline or reference levels.  At least, qualitative directions of change will be determined.  Preferably, magnitudes of change will be assessed, which in many cases will involve statistical or dynamic system modelling.  Such assessments would aim to assess the risks of crossing the thresholds and by when.  An important part of this assessment will be to evaluate the relative importance of drivers/causes of change. 

These attributes of metrics will enable a MEASO to contribute to assessments of how well objectives are being, or likely to be, achieved.

The process for undertaking a MEASO aims to have the following attributes:

  1. An assessment should be feasible and able to be undertaken immediately, being refined in subsequent assessments;
  2. An assessment should be statistically repeatable, consistent & transparent;
  3. Uncertainties and confidence will be reported, as far as possible, in quantitative terms;
  4. Scientific reviews on one or more components of the assessment can be undertaken/updated at any time by the research community -  in order to be ready for the integration of reviews and preparation for an assessment (using templates, and standards for inputs), rather than relying solely on the scientific literature.
  5. Outputs have an adequate review and refinement process, involving scientists and end-users.

Results of the MEASO aim to:

  1. be clear and unambiguous in graphics, enabling comparisons between areas/times;
  2. show clearly the change in metrics from the baseline/reference level;
  3. allow managers to see how different responses/actions would be expected to affect the metrics; and
  4. include time-series of change in metrics from baseline/reference levels, rather than since the time of the previous assessment.

MEASOs are intended to be undertaken with a frequency and timing for providing input of the most up-to-date information to national and international bodies e.g. be timely for input to the IPCC cycle.


Please cite this page as:
Constable, A.J., J. Melbourne-Thomas, R. Trebilco, A. Press, et al. (2018) Thursday 7 Feb 2019.

Page contributors: Andrew Constable

Last modified on: Feb 07, 2019 04:06


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