On 17th June 2008, the guideline for establishing a framework for Community action in the field of marine environment (Marine Strategy Framework Directive - MSFD, 2008/56/EG) was published. The overall objective of the guideline is to achieve and/or maintain a good status of the marine environment before the year 2020. For the definition of the good environmental status, the ecosystem approach will have to be taken into account.
The most important impacts and effects, particularly those of anthropogenic origin, on the environmental state of the targeted waters will be analysed. The status of the marine environment will be defined by 11‘descriptors’, which cover certain aspects of the environmental status and are defined in the MSFD:
(1) Biological diversity is maintained. The quality and occurrence of habitats and the distribution and abundance of species are in line with prevailing physiographic, geographic and climatic conditions.
(2) Non-indigenous species introduced by human activities are at levels that do not adversely alter the ecosystems.
(3) Populations of all commercially exploited fish and shellfish are within safe biological limits, exhibiting a population age and size distribution that is indicative of a healthy stock.
(4) All elements of the marine food webs, to the extent that they are known, occur at normal abundance and diversity and levels capable of ensuring the long-term abundance of the species and the retention of their full reproductive capacity.
(5) Human-induced eutrophication is minimised, especially adverse effects thereof, such as losses in biodiversity, ecosystem degradation, harmful algae blooms and oxygen deficiency in bottom waters.
(6) Sea-floor integrity is at a level that ensures that the structure and functions of the ecosystems are safeguarded and benthic ecosystems, in particular, are not adversely affected.
(7) Permanent alteration of hydrographical conditions does not adversely affect marine ecosystems.
(8) Concentrations of contaminants are at levels not giving rise to pollution effects.
(9) Contaminants in fish and other seafood for human consumption do not exceed levels established by Community legislation or other relevant standards.
(10) Properties and quantities of marine litter do not cause harm to the coastal and marine environment.
(11) Introduction of energy, including underwater noise, is at levels that do not adversely affect the marine environment.
Qualitative and quantitative aspects of the different impacts as well as detectable trends should be covered. Furthermore, the cumulative and synergetic effects on the marine environment will have to be considered. The German Federal Environment Agency (UBA) founded a project to develop a concept for an overall integrating cumulative effects assessment system in order to effectively ensure the accomplishment of the future assessment requirements.
Cumulative effects comprise ‘indirect impacts, which are not a direct result of the project, often produced away from or as a result of a complex pathway’, ‘impacts that result from incremental changes caused by other past, present or reasonably foreseeable actions together with the project’, and ‘impact interactions between impacts (whether between the impacts of just one project or between the impacts of other projects in the areas)’ (European Commission 1999). Moreover, cumulative effects from a spatial and temporal perspective, which might increase the magnitude of an effect will be analysed as well. This is for example the case if many pressures accumulate in a certain area (‘space crowding’ ) or if pressures appear in short time intervals (‘time crowding’) (Siedentop 2005).
Due to the huge amount of different effects, species specific differences in responses to the anthropogenic pressures and the variety of interactions between different stressors, this is a challenging task and requires a sophisticated system for literature organisation and data management.
myBiOSis offers a suitable web-based platform to gather and organise relevant information, to visualise the various interaction effects and to support the cumulative assessment required by the MSFD this way. Basic information such as title, authors, year published, and the abstract can be directly imported from citation files previously downloaded by reference management software packages such as Endnote and the paper itself can be uploaded to the database and be accessed by the project members. Furthermore, information can be entered in topic-related entry fields such as ‘effects’ , ‘species group’ or checkboxes for the nature of the cumulative effects (additive, antagonistic, synergistic). One can modify the entry forms if needed. The information entered in the entry form is organised in an editable and sortable (ascending/ descending) table comprising all papers and all information entered with a link to the paper and the full reference details. The application ‘atomizer’ enables the user to assign single terms and expressions from the publication to various assessment units. Information about the different relationships and additional relevant information can be entered in the ‘assessment relationships editor’. Here, the relationships can be assigned to taxa but also to certain lab conditions or environmental conditions and the magnitude of the effect can be quantified. The IEA assessment toolkit visualises the interactions between anthropogenic influences and species in a causal relationship network. The cumulative effects can be quantified by calling a certain assessment method from the IEA assessment toolkit, which analyses the data.
The tools might be used later on also for other kinds of research questions related to any kind of cumulative effects and study systems.