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News article11 April 2019

Aquatic ecosystems – good conditions yield better services

Healthy aquatic ecosystems deliver high quality ecosystem services
© Fotolia, author: by-studio

A recently published JRC article on the link between the ecological condition of Europe's water resources and the ecosystem services they provide highlights the need to protect and restore aquatic ecosystems.

The article quantifies and maps the capacity, flow, sustainability and efficiency of the main ecosystem services provided by rivers, lakes and coastal waters in Europe, and analyses their relationship with the ecosystem condition.

It finds a strong correlation between delivery of regulating and cultural ecosystem services and good ecological status, and shows that exploitation of ecosystems can affect the conditions of the aquatic environment

Importance of aquatic ecosystem services

Ecosystem services help sustain human activities and well-being, but the pressures imposed by intensive human activities can alter the condition of the ecosystems, and the services they can deliver.

Quantifying the ecosystem services and the pressures they face helps understand the value of protecting ecosystems for human society.

Six ecosystem services were assessed in this study - four regulating services, one provisioning service and one cultural service. These include water provisioning (supply for domestic and economic activities), water purification (nitrogen retention), erosion prevention (by riparian areas), flood protection (by floodplains), coastal protection (coastal zones as buffers against the sea) and recreation.


Better regulating and cultural water ecosystem services were found to be correlated with good ecosystem status. On the other hand, provisioning services (such as water abstractions) were found to put pressure on the ecosystem.

The close connections between socio-economic drivers, pressures on the environment, alteration of ecosystems biodiversity and functioning, and delivery of ecosystem services are at the core of sustainable development policies and environmental regulations that seek to achieve sustainable management of water and natural resources.

The evidence presented in this study supports the need to protect and restore aquatic ecosystems called for by the current EU water policy and Biodiversity Strategy, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 6 – Clean Water and Sanitation and SDG15 – Life on Land) and the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Such efforts to protect, restore and maintain aquatic ecosystems in good ecological condition are essential if we are to ensure the delivery of aquatic ecosystem services in the future.

Further information

Related Content

Relationship between ecological condition and ecosystem services in European rivers, lakes and coastal waters

Water Framework Directive

Marine Strategy Framework Directive

EU Biodiversity Strategy

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

Convention on Biological Diversity


Publication date
11 April 2019