Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS


DEVOTES Report Summary

Project ID: 308392
Funded under: FP7-ENVIRONMENT
Country: Spain

Final Report Summary - DEVOTES (DEVelopment Of innovative Tools for understanding marine biodiversity and assessing good Environmental Status)

Executive Summary:
The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) requires EU Member States to take measures to achieve Good Environmental Status (GES) in the marine environment by 2020. DEVOTES has developed tools to understand and describe biodiversity status at an European scale, including as many components of the ecosystem as possible, providing the scientific knowledge, upon which appropriate monitoring and management strategies under the MSFD can be designed and made available for managers, policy-makers and scientists.
The project had five key objectives, which have been covered far beyond the state-of-the-art: (i) Improve our understanding of the impact of human activities and climate change on marine biodiversity: we have proposed new conceptual models relating human activities, pressures, state of change, impacts and human welfare, under a climate change scenario. We have created pressure/impact matrices at regional seas level.
(ii) Test the relevant selected indicators - compiled by the Regional Sea Conventions - and develop new, innovative ones to assess biodiversity at several ecological scales: we have developed a software (DEVOTool) collating >600 indicators; proposed criteria to select adequate indicators; methods to set targets; and, after studying the gaps, we have developed and tested 29 new ones, covering most of the ecosystem components.
(iii) Develop, test and validate innovative integrative modelling and monitoring tools to further improve our understanding of ecosystem and biodiversity changes in space and time, applying both traditional sampling and autonomous data acquisition devices: we have studied the EU monitoring networks, analysed the gaps and proposed ways to undertake effective monitoring of our seas. In addition, we have developed new modelling tools for different descriptors (e.g. food-webs, commercial fish) allowing to cover extensive areas of the oceans.
(iv) Implement cost-effective indicators, monitoring and assessment strategies: we have developed innovative monitoring tools (based on remote sensing, biosensors, acoustics, metagenomics), together with socio-economic approaches (cost-based assessment) to overcome the potential barriers preventing to achieve GES. We have developed a “Nested Environmental status Assessment Tool” (NEAT), allowing an integrative assessment of the status of EU seas. DEVOTES has covered the 4 EU Regional Seas, with 10 case studies to test NEAT, focusing on biodiversity, which is one of the qualitative descriptors identified in the MSFD to characterize the GES, but also considering other descriptors (e.g. food-webs, seafloor integrity, etc.), which relate to the impacts of human activities and climatic influences on seas. We used existing databases and new data from national networks for testing NEAT.
(v) Propose and disseminate strategies and measures for ecosystems’ adaptive management, with consultation of Member States: we have made important efforts to disseminate all the results, organizing 4 workshops with stakeholders, 9 special sessions in conferences, 4 summer schools, 27 postgraduate courses, 19 presentations and training courses on NEAT, several videos, 394 contributions to international conferences, 177 scientific papers, and a book (two editions). All our results and papers are publicly available for free.

Project Context and Objectives:
The European Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD; 2008/56/EC) establishes a framework, within which Member States shall take the necessary measures to achieve or maintain Good Environmental Status (GES) in the marine environment, by the year 2020 at the latest, in the four European Regional Seas (Baltic, North Eastern Atlantic, Mediterranean and Black Sea). The concept of environmental status takes into account the structure and functioning of the marine ecosystems together with natural physiographic, geographic and climatic factors.
The development and implementation of the MSFD should be aimed at the conservation of the marine ecosystems, by a sustainable use of their resources. Such an approach should address all human activities that have an impact on the marine environment, throughout an integrated Ecosystem-Based Approach (EBA). This approach has a holistic view on the management and protection of marine ecosystems, focusing upon ensuring the sustainable use of the seas, and providing safe, clean, healthy and productive marine waters. To undertake such an EBA, the MSFD proposes the use of 11 qualitative descriptors related to: biological diversity, non-indigenous species, commercial fish and shellfish, food-webs, eutrophication, seafloor integrity, hydrographic conditions, concentration of contaminants in the environment and in fish and other seafood consumed by humans, marine litter, and introduction of energy including underwater noise.
When proposing those descriptors, the MSFD purpose was to reflect the widespread recognition of the clear effects of pressures from established and emerging human activities on marine ecosystems and, consequently, the potential of those pressures to alter the ability of ocean ecosystems to provide services that yield societal and economic benefits. Given the multiple pressures society places on marine ecosystems and the broad range of services they provide, a holistic assessment of the environmental status of marine ecosystems requires scientific evidence-based Integrated Ecosystem Assessments. Indeed, the former European Commissioner for Environment, Janez Potočnik, stated during the closing session of Euromares 2010, on the occasion of the European Maritime Day, that: ‘We are learning that the [Marine Strategy Framework] Directive has a weakness – and that weakness is the lack of knowledge’. With a lack of knowledge ’...these unknown variables pose a real problem for decision-makers. They need to be identified and addressed in a systematic way. And while we need to acknowledge the differences and diversity of our seas, there are some issues which can only be adequately addressed on a European scale’. These statements capture the desire of policy-makers and managers worldwide to fulfil their moral mandate to conserve and protect the seas using evidence-based decision-making. Hence, the vision for clean, healthy, biodiverse and productive oceans and seas with sustainable resource use requires bridging the gap between policy and science in assessing the status of marine ecosystems by increasing scientific knowledge of marine ecosystems and their functioning, including humans and their role as part of the ecosystem.
However, our knowledge of the oceans, to provide thorough and useful advice to reduce pressures at sea and achieve GES, was limited. This is why we proposed the European project DEVOTES (DEVelopment Of innovative Tools for understanding marine biodiversity and assessing good Environmental Status), which started in 2012 to facilitate MSFD implementation, under the ‘Oceans of Tomorrow’ initiative, of the 7th Framework Programme. This project considers these complex, inter-related scientific issues and management needs of the MSFD, as well as the challenges shared by the four regional seas identified within the MSFD. Our main five objectives were:
(i) To improve understanding of the cumulative impacts of human activities on marine biodiversity and variation associated with climate, identifying the socio-economic and legislative barriers and bottlenecks that prevent achieving GES (this objective is related to Work Package (WP) 1: Human Pressures and Climate Change).
(ii) To test indicators currently in use and develop new assessment options, particularly for biodiversity-related descriptors (i.e. Biological diversity, Non-indigenous species, Food-webs and Seafloor integrity), at several ecological levels (species, habitat, ecosystems), and characterize and classify status of marine waters (this objective is related to WP3: Indicator testing and development).
(iii) To develop, test and validate innovative integrative modelling and cost-effective monitoring tools to strengthen understanding of ecosystem function and biodiversity changes in space and time associated with human impacts, including climatic influences and socio-economic implications of barriers preventing to achieve GES (this objective is related to WP4: Innovative modelling tools, WP5: Innovative monitoring techniques, and WP2: Social-economic implications for achieving GES).
(iv) To develop integrative (holistic) assessment methods and test them in several case studies across regional seas (this objective is related to WP6: Integrative assessment of biodiversity).
(v) To propose and disseminate strategies and measures for adaptive management of ecosystems, including integrative and holistic tools to assess environmental status (this objective is related to WP7: Outreach, stakeholders engagement and product dissemination).
We therefore set an overall goal of better understanding the relationships between pressures from human activities and climate change, and their effects on marine ecosystems, including biological diversity, in order to support ecosystem-based management and attain GES of marine waters. Our harmonized approach to the four European regional seas tested and validated existing indicators, created new indicators when necessary, developed modelling tools for the assessment of biodiversity, tested new monitoring tools and established an integrative approach for assessing environmental status in all regional seas, useful for Member States, Regional Seas Conventions, European Environment Agency, and the European Commission, among others.

Project Results:
All results from DEVOTES are publicly available, to be used by any scientist, manager, policy-maker or private companies. The deliverables are available at the web portal ( and open access to the 177 scientific publications ( The main results are presented under each WP:
WP1: Human Pressures and Climate Change
• We have developed and published new methods of conceptualising pressure-impact links and then describing these on a regional sea basis, giving new analyses of activity-pressure-impact links at generic and regional levels (including all regional seas).
• We have performed major analysis of the DPSIR (Drivers-Pressures-State of Change-Impacts-Responses) and other conceptual frameworks and have produced the major revision of DPSIR to DAPSI(W)R(M) which defines Drivers, integrates Activities as the cause of the Pressures, acknowledges Pressures as the mechanisms causing State changes on the natural system and the Impacts on human Welfare, and then identifies the Responses which are defined as Measures in the MSFD.
• We have investigated the importance of biodiversity functioning to move away from the previous structural biodiversity approach in several directives (MSFD, Habitats and Water Framework Directive).
• We have discussed the relevance of moving baselines and unbounded boundaries on MSFD implementation.
• We have provided new conceptual models to allow communication in science and policy-making.
• We have determined the relative contribution of exogenic pressures to the observed or predicted changes in MSFD descriptor indicators.
• We have taken further our knowledge of the influence of climate change on attaining GES and the legal repercussions of moving baselines. For that, we have summarized all the effects of climate change on the descriptors and focussed on raising the profile of Article 14 of the MSFD which illustrates the role of external factors on Member States not being able to meet GES through external factors.
• We also carried out a major interrogation of the wording of the Annexes of the MSFD and provided at the appropriate time material for the revision of the Commission Decision on the MSFD, which has been approved in November 2016.

Work Package 2: Social-economic implications for achieving GES
• DEVOTES has developed, applied, and provided a critique of a multi-stakeholder systemic approach, built on the DPSIR framework and the Causal Loop Diagram (CLD) process, to increase understanding and, thereby, contribute to the achievement of GES. The approach enables an identification of the barriers (social, economic and legislative, together with other aspects of governance including administrative bodies and policies) that can hinder the achievement of GES. It does this through engagement with stakeholders in model building. The models facilitate the identification of causal mechanisms and potential points of leverage for changing behavioural patterns to bring the system towards GES.
• Novel economic analyses were undertaken assessing the cost-effectiveness of monitoring for the MSFD in three separate case studies: Finnish Monitoring Programme, Bay of Biscay, and UK monitoring of plankton. Using these case studies we showed how cost-effectiveness analysis can be conducted for different aspects of monitoring. DEVOTES further developed application of the Rapfish software tool in the context of marine monitoring using a five-step process general framework of multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA). The multidimensional aspect of determining cost-effectiveness of monitoring programmes is a function of the scenario, the case-study (M) and the selected attributes (N). Rapfish reduces the multidimensional problem into two dimensional space, in which one dimension is the score representing the value of the chosen index and the other dimension represents the fact that other score combinations for the attributes could provide similar index value. Depending on the characteristics of the applied attributes, different indices to assess the cost-effectiveness of monitoring can be calculated.
• New methods, developed during DEVOTES, for undertaking cost-benefit analysis (CBA) of new management measures to achieve GES were applied in three case studies: Gulf of Finland, Bay of Biscay, and East of England Marine Plan Area. The method consists in a 6-step approach for undertaking environmental, which was adapted and developed in the context of MSFD management practices and development of a Programme of Measures (PoMs) to achieve GES. It was applied using an interdisciplinary approach in the three case studies. While following the general framework of environmental CBA, case study analyses were conducted independently of each other, each responding to particular requirements and challenges in its geographical location. Consequently, the case studies highlighted advantages and shortcomings of different approaches to the implementation of environmental CBA in an MSFD framework.
• We have investigated on the governance and legislation, as potential socio-economic barriers preventing to achieve GES.
• We have developed and applied methodologies for quantifying and valuing changes in marine ecosystem services within different contexts (i.e. mapping ecosystem services provided by benthic habitats in the European North Atlantic Ocean; proposing how to value biodiversity in environmental management; or how goods and services can be delivered through conservation).
Work Package 3: Indicator testing and development
• We have compiled over 600 biodiversity indicators into the DEVOTool database (this is freely available software: The database was developed during the first reporting period and further indicators have been included throughout the project duration. A critical review and a gap analysis of biodiversity related indicators available for the MSFD assessment purposes, was carried out. The tool allows extraction of ranked indicator lists best fulfilling selected criteria, enabling users to search for suitable indicators to address a particular biodiversity component, ecosystem feature, habitat or pressure in a marine area of interest. An updated version of this database was integrated into the NEAT software.
• Quality criteria and scoring framework for biodiversity indicators has been developed. The quality analyses of more than 30 prioritized new DEVOTES indicators were performed. The work was done relating the indicators to a novel set of criteria underpinning the good indicator definition. These criteria set are based on ICES’ broadly accepted list of 16 criteria but was simplified to a set of only 8 criteria). These criteria are: (1) Scientific basis; 2) Ecosystem relevance; 3) Responsiveness to pressures; 4) Possibility to set targets; 5) Early warning capacity; 6) Concreteness; 7) Cost-Efficiency; 8) Existing and on-going data) are presented.
• The developed indicator quality scoring system can be applied to assess if indicators meet a number of quality criteria relevant for marine biodiversity assessments. The test of the quality criteria for indicators was applied under three GES descriptors (biodiversity, eutrophication and seafloor integrity), various habitat components (seaweeds, seagrasses, benthic macrofauna, and plankton), and assessment regions (Danish, Lithuanian, and UK waters) was carried out. This methodology provides a transparent and standardized structure allowing comparison of candidate indicators, identifying potential limitations and focusing the development of more adequate indicators, and helps indicator selection for assessment purposes.
• A new approach for target setting of the marine biodiversity-related indicators in relation to ecosystem resilience (i.e., the ability to recover rapidly and predictably from pressures) and to select indicators and their target ranges was developed. The focus is on the assessments of the low-resilience components that recover slowly after pressures have been removed or decreased. The aim is to define GES boundaries that ensure sustainable use of ecosystem services and allows considerations of their suitability for current societal needs.
• Development and validation of 16 new indicators covering range of ecosystem components, descriptors and criteria, and refinement of 13 existing indicators to better fulfil the MSFD requirements regarding quality, confidence and target setting. Partly, indicators have been chosen on the basis of gaps identified during the inventory, covering different descriptors, ecosystem components and regional areas. Other indicators have been chosen because the quality evaluation showed the potential of developing an indicator into an operational method. Some of the new indicators include:
- Indicators for assessment of the genetic structure of a population (Descriptor 1: biodiversity): Genetic gAMBI, which is a macrobenthic community indicator, based on DNA metabarcoding. This indicator has a great potential for biodiversity monitoring and assessment; but it still requires further benchmarking and standardization.
- New microbial sediment indicator (Descriptors 1: biodiversity and 6: seafloor integrity) based on DNA metabarcoding allows rapid and cost-effective analysis of thousands of samples. The indicator principle and calculation follows genetic AMBI for benthic bacteria.
- New indicator for structure and functioning of marine food web (Descriptor 4): Phytoplankton community composition as a food web indicator provides an early warning of food web changes and it is based on the deftermiantion of quality of different phytoplankton species as food for zooplankton and fish. This has been proposed to HELCOM as a new core indicator of biodiversity (see HELCOM Environmental Fact Sheet (
- Refined indicator for proportion of selected species at the top of food-webs (Descriptor 4): Typical Length in fish and elasmobranch communities provides a measure for relative abundance of large fish at high trophic levels. Gradual decline in Typical Length shows a response to high fishing pressure.
- Indicators for assessing physical damage of benthic habitats (Descriptor 6: seafloor integrity): High resolution benthic habitat characterization shows the changes in the seabed and biogenic reef-forming species. This indicator is based on multibeam echosounders on vessels. It is also applicable for assessment of hydrological conditions (Descriptor 7), species abundance (Descriptor 4: food webs), and habitat distribution (Descriptor 1: biodiversity).
- Indicators for impacts of non-indigenous invasive species (NIS) (Descriptor 2). New indicator on Cumulative IMPact index of Invasive ALien Species (CIMPAL) that can be used for identification of NIS hotspots, arrival pathways, and critical species for management was developed.
- The temporal variability of drifting algae cover in shallow (1–2 m) waters of Denmark was investigated in relation to the occurrence of eelgrass.
- In order to promote cost-effective monitoring, the functional relationship between eelgrass cover and aboveground biomass has been investigated using site-specific information on Secchi depth or light attenuation.
Work Package 4: Innovative modelling tools
• The current knowledge on the role of modelling in assessments of GES has been reviewed at European level.
• For the whole of the Mediterranean Sea, areas vulnerable to invasion by Invasive Alien Species were identified, using modelling.
• Habitat modelling of elasmobranchs in the southern North Sea demonstrated the extirpation of some species such as common skate over time.
• The biogeography of seven key species of fish in the North Sea ecosystem and related size based indicators was modelled relative to climate change (RCP scenario 8.5) using the size-spectrum dynamic bioclimatic envelope model.
• A large data set on genetic population structure in species groups with different dispersal abilities was assembled and analyzed. The research indicated that the variations detected in genetic structures can be linked to the constraints in movement within the benthic habitat in macroinvertebrates compared to other species with a better dispersal potential. This is consistent with a “neutral theory’’ explanation for spatial patterns in marine biodiversity.
• Two smartphone applications: DevoMap and MyGES were released for Googleplay and Applestore for smartphones
• Innovative integrative modelling tools beyond state-of-the-art were developed. For example, we created an advanced statistical model for the North Sea and introduced the notion of an interaction web demonstrating the links between components.
• Modelling tools have been used to develop coupled-biogeochemical and fisheries food-web models, modelling indicators of biodiversity and comparing them to indicators of food-webs. Spatial models have been constructed to address issues of spatial variability in indicators of GES at different scales.
• Species community models, based on Hubbell’s neutral theory of biodiversity, have been used to assess marine connectivity and biodiversity complementarity, comparing data on plankton and benthos across the four regional seas and globally.
• Biological Trait Analysis (BTA) is a powerful analytical approach based on ‘multiple’ biological traits that is used to describe different aspects of ecosystem functioning. Biological traits have been selected then encompass different aspects of life history, morphology and behaviour of the studied taxa and each trait has been divided into several categories. The wide range of traits used by BTA, the strong link between them and the ecosystem processes, as well as the sound theoretical framework advance the field considerably over traditional methods dealing with ecosystem functioning and thus offer numerous possibilities for innovative. We have also studied relationships between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, including non-indigenous species.

Work Package 5: Innovative monitoring techniques
• Some of the innovative methodologies and technologies developed and tested (e.g. AUVs, high-resolution sampling instruments, chemotaxonomic analysis, multibeams) are ready to use and can help to achieve in real time information on different ecosystem components (from microbes to megafauna), rapidly, in a rigorous way and at a lower cost than traditional ones. Other monitoring devices, including acoustic and visual devices such as underwater video and motion analysis to study impacts of noise, or semi-automated classification of zooplankton, have been developed.
• Satellite ocean colour and temperature indicators can address issues such as coastal water quality and eutrophication, and thus support inferences on biodiversity, fisheries management and aquaculture impacts, while providing sufficient spatial and temporal coverage of the Regional Seas. Ocean colour may yield metrics of phytoplankton community composition and functional groups, and bloom phenology to analyse the timing of the growing season, which can assist understanding of biogeochemical cycles and food-webs. Several DEVOTES partners have utilized satellite-derived chlorophyll a concentrations in assessing the status of marine waters within the MSFD.
• High Frequency non-invasive (HFNI) valvometry could be used in the MSFD for routine monitoring of areas impacted by anthropogenic activities such as bathing beaches and harbours, oil platforms and aquaculture installations. We have developed a biosensor that can be used immediately.
• A biotic index (microgAMBI) has been developed using the relative abundance of putative indicator bacterial taxa, and significantly correlated with a sediment quality index calculated on the basis of organic and inorganic compound concentrations. This new index based on bacterial assemblage composition can be a sensitive tool for providing a fast environmental assessment and allow a more comprehensive integrative ecosystem approach for environmental management.
• Microarray could be a useful tool to provide a quick and reliable information on the presence of algae potentially toxic for human health. However, the use of microarray still presents a series of limits since some of algal species morphologically identified were not detected by the molecular probes. Moreover, the sensitivity of selected probes was high at genus level, but less satisfactory at species level. Thus, the optimal use of the microarray is in support to quickly provide reliable information together with current monitoring practices.
• Metabarcoding can represent a useful tool for the census of marine biodiversity, but there are still different shortcomings and pitfalls that prevent its extensive use in routine marine monitoring without the support of the classical taxonomic identification, especially for tiny eukaryotic taxa. A particular need is to move metabarcoding applications from identification and detection of taxa to their quantification in terms of abundance and/or biomass, which will require concerted effort to address biases associated with gene copy number variation. Important progress relating molecular approaches in biodiversity monitoring, for different biodiversity components, has been achieved (e.g. in microbes, phytoplankton, meiofauna and macroinvertebrates). All sequenced species are incorporated in GeneBank and BOLD ( repositories.
• Molecular methods based on the use of qPCR and metabarcoding can be used to assess the biodiversity of the microbial community and investigate the presence of human pathogens in seawater and sediment samples.
• DEVOTES has deployed Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures (ARMS) and artificial substratum units (ASU’s) to examine the diversity of the understudied cryptobiota in the 4 Regional Seas. These samples are being now analysed using morpho-taxonomic and molecular techniques, and because they are standard and systematic sampling devices, they improve our ability to assess, measure, monitor, and relate the biodiversity and abundance of organisms across ecosystems. These devices will not only advance our understanding of local processes and ecological community response to environmental changes, as different faunal components will provide complementary information, but also improve the estimates of biodiversity in benthic communities.
• Acoustic protocols based on the use of hydrophone, acoustic index and software, have been developed and tested to study marine soundscape, track biological signals, their daily and nightly dynamics and distinguish them from anthropogenic noise pollution.
Work Package 6: Integrative assessment of biodiversity
• A conceptual definition of biodiversity was undertaken, discussing the implication for assessing the status.
• We have developed and published an operational definition of ‘Good Environmental Status’, which can be used by scientists and managers in implementing the MSFD.
• We have established a complete list of keystone species and processes across all regional seas (
• We have proposed different ways of integrating multiple ecosystem components and indicators, at different spatial and temporal scales.
• A review of different assessment tools has been published, highlighting the evolution of integrated assessment tools and showing that Nested Environmental status Assessment Tool (NEAT) (as the most recent tool) refines/improves the concepts of previous tools.
• A general framework for assessing uncertainty of indicators, an essential requirement of NEAT, was developed. The study recommends that uncertainty components are estimated from large data sets in order to quantify variances more accurately.
• We have developed the integrated NEAT as standalone software that can be freely downloaded from the Internet ( The catalogue of indicators from WP3 and the DEVOTool software have now formed the basis of the NEAT software for integrated biodiversity assessment. NEAT has been produced for both Windows and Mac. To accompany the software we have produced a user manual (, a YouTube video introduction to NEAT ( and an elaborate webinar ( NEAT provides a mean for assessing the environmental status of marine areas according to the MSFD. The tool is hierarchically structured to assess environmental status for different ecosystem components, within different habitats, ensuring optimal weighting of indicators for the overall status assessment. This tool integrates spatial and temporal information, at different scales, together with indicators from different descriptors (which can be selected from DEVOTool). The tool is flexible and can be used for specific MSFD descriptors, for groups of descriptors or for all descriptors combined.
• We have tested NEAT across a broad range of marine systems to investigate the applicability and robustness of the tool. The experiences obtained from testing NEAT at 10 different marine systems, ranging from 1500 to near 1 million km2, have been shared with the scientific community in a paper in Frontiers in Marine Science.
• We have carried out a survey among the users having tested NEAT across different marine systems with numbers of indicators ranging from 13 to 180. The survey showed that NEAT was also tested for other MSFD descriptors (mainly D5: eutrophication, and D6: seafloor integrity) in addition to D1 Biodiversity. One major issue in the survey was the lack of data availability, and although this issue pertains to the national monitoring programs and data availability, NEAT was commented as a good tool for identifying such gaps. Recommendations for improvements to NEAT were suggested and will be considered for the next release of NEAT.

Potential Impact:
DEVOTES potential impact:
We have divided the impact in several sectors:
• Scientific impact: the project has a strong scientific impact on various topics, including 29 new indicators developed or refined; developing of monitoring tools, including bio-sensors, acoustic, satellite and genomic applications; new applications of modelling approaches for food-web, benthos and fishing indicators assessment; development of methods for quality boundaries and targets setting, to be applied in assessment methods; development of uncertainty assessment, to be applied in assessment methods; and integrative assessment method (NEAT: Nested Environmental status Assessment Tool) to be applied in all regional seas, development of a multi-stakeholder systemic approach to identify the barriers (social, economic and legislative) that can hinder the achievement of GES. DEVOTES researchers have achieved an outstanding record of publications, with a total of 170 peer-review papers already published. All papers published by DEVOTES are available in Open Access, via Zenodo ( The main results of the consortium have been published in high impact journals such as Nature Communications, Global Change Biology, or Scientific Reports; and in intermediate impact journals (Ecological Indicators, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Estuarine Coastal and Shelf Science, etc.). As synthesis of the project a paper on communication and another with the global progress made by DEVOTES have been written. In addition, one of the main scientific achievements has been the publication of a book in Frontiers in Marine Science, collating all the papers published in this journal by DEVOTES, being the book freely available at Collectively these journals reach a mixed audience of scientists and managers, who are the ultimate end-users of the project outputs. The project has a Google Scholar webpage (, in which it is possible to see that our papers have received until 13th December 2016 a total of 1610 citations and the project has now an Hindex of 22.
• Policy impact: Member States should assess the Good Environmental Status of their shared regional seas as part of the MSFD. The added value of DEVOTES primarily consists in a European concerted research effort to reach this goal. DEVOTES has provided integrative, harmonized and validated tools and indicators able to be used across EU, including its use by Regional Seas Conventions (both European and global, since we have made intense efforts to disseminate the results to all of them). Non-EU countries (USA, Canada, Turkey, Saudi Arabia) are also involved in the project, giving to the EU a lead role, since some of the methods developed here are intended to be used in these countries: e.g. the Canadian Healthy Oceans Network (CHONe) is going to use NEAT in the environmental assessment in Canada for 2017. DEVOTES is highly relevant to many EU policies: to MSFD, to which directly addresses, but also to Water Framework Directive (some of the new indicators developed could be used in estuarine and coastal environments), Habitats Directive (through many of the ecosystem components investigated), Maritime Spatial Planning (because of the analyses on DPSIR, pressure-impacts matrices, etc.), Integrated Coastal Zone Management (related managed and unmanaged pressures investigated, modelling methods, etc.), Integrated Maritime Policy, Common Fisheries Policy (because of the research undertaken related to descriptor 3: commercial species), Biodiversity Strategy 2020 (because we have provided indicators, monitoring and modelling tools, which can be used in its implementation). DEVOTES should significantly impact the implementation of the MSFD, with products delivered in an end-user friendly format and well disseminated, and, as commented before, freely available at the DEVOTES web portal ( and open access to the scientific publications (
• Technical impact: some of the innovations developed in DEVOTES have direct technical impact (e.g. non-invasive biosensors developed as early warning signals of pollution affecting biodiversity; and different genomic tools developed to assess the status or identify species of microbes, plankton, meio- and macro-fauna). In addition, we highlight several indirect technical impacts, because the knowledge developed in indicator selection, modelling application, new monitoring tools, integrative assessment, etc., have further potential applications. In addition, the legacy of the projects includes two software: (i) DEVOTool: this freely available software (, allows stakeholders, Regional Sea Conventions, Member States, EEA, etc., to search for indicators to assess status, select and refine indicators, and then use them in the assessment tool developed in DEVOTES. It has been updated this year and now it has more than 600 indicators. The EEA has commented its interest in maintaining and using this tool in the future for EIONET; and (ii) the DEVOTES software NEAT, which provides a mean for assessing the environmental status of marine areas according to the MSFD, but also with applications to other research and management fields, such as Environmental Impact Studies. The tool is hierarchically structured to assess environmental status for different ecosystem components, within different habitats, ensuring optimal weighting of indicators for the overall status assessment. This tool integrates spatial and temporal information, at different scales, together with indicators from different descriptors (which can be selected from DEVOTool). The tool is flexible and can be used for specific MSFD descriptors, for groups of descriptors or for all descriptors combined. Finally, the tool includes an uncertainty assessment of the status, providing confidence estimates of the status classification. The software is freely available at
• Commercial impact: Because we committed to developing open access tools our project has no commercial impact. However, with incorporation of further applications and improvements into NEAT, this tool could potentially be partially commercialized eventually.
• Social impact: we recognised that our project is mostly related to policy-makers, managers, scientists, etc. Thus, we have participated in the Ocean Sampling Day, a citizens’ science initiative from the EU project MicroB3, in 2013 (4 partners), 2014 (9 partners), 2015 (11 partners) and 2016 (5 partners), in order to make available our knowledge in monitoring and genomics for society, and also some of the outcomes have been made available through mobile phone apps. In addition, we have tried to explain our project to the society, by participating in different initiatives, such as science festivals and events: Sharper - Notte dei Ricercatori (2014, 2015, 2016), FameLab (2013, 2014), two child/family "researcher for a day" activity day at Polaria aquarium (Tromsø) and two participations at Tromsø science festival ("hands-on" stand on seafloor biodiversity), among several others.
• Environmental impact: We anticipate significant impact through exploitation of results by policy implementers, environmental managers, and statutory bodies, because the project has ensured that these bodies consider the new methods and new information in the forthcoming (2018) second assessment for the MSFD. Through partners who are involved as national MSFD contacts, some of the discussions in DEVOTES have fed into the MSFD monitoring proposals submitted in 2014 and the MSFD measures proposals submitted in 2015. In particular, the project produced the first interrogation of the wording of the Annexes and suggested changes for the revision of the Commission Decision recently approved (November 2016).
• Economic impact: Although DEVOTES was not proposed with economic objectives, we think that it would have an economic impact in many issues, among others: (i) by reducing monitoring costs by Member States, when using new indicators, modelling and monitoring tools developed and tested here; (ii) by reducing uncertainty on the management measures (adjusting their costs), by using the economic methods tested to determine the cost-benefit of the measures; and (iii) by shortening the periods (saving expenses) in assessing the status in a holistic way.
DEVOTES Main Dissemination activities:
The dissemination team at DEVOTES, composed by Ecoreach, NILU and AZTI, wrote a paper (Mea, M., A. Newton, M. Uyarra, C. Alonso, A. Borja, 2016. From science to policy and society: enhancing the effectiveness of communication. Frontiers in Marine Science, 3: 10.3389/fmars.2016.00168) which built on the authors experience accumulated during the project. Our dissemination strategy and plan included two complementary approaches of communication with stakeholders: (i) traditional (e.g. peer reviewed publications, stakeholders workshops and participation in scientific conferences), and (ii) new (e.g. social networks, smartphone applications) media tools. For each dissemination approach, we defined production targets (e.g. number of articles to be published, individual visitors on the website, etc.) to be achieved by the end of the project, and impact measurements (e.g., citation indices for peer reviewed articles) to monitor the DEVOTES Dissemination actions.
Besides the general public, another six categories of stakeholders were identified as target groups of dissemination through an analysis of the characteristics of the audience engaged with DEVOTES project: (i) scientists with interest in marine monitoring, biodiversity and assessment, (ii) higher education institutions, (iii) environmental agencies (i.e. EEA) and/or other institutions operating at the national and regional levels (i.e. Regional Seas Conventions), (iv) decision making authorities, (v) environmental associations, NGOs, fishing and aquaculture associations, maritime transport associations, port authorities, and (vi) private and industrial stakeholders, including Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). We created a stakeholders database, with over 1500 key contacts in the marine environment research and industry.
The dissemination channels and main results were:
• Website: we built a dedicated website,, representing the main communication channel for the project achievements and progress. A special effort of the Dissemination Team was focused on developing an eye-catching layout and a user-friendly website map. The website, dedicated to all stakeholder categories, was developed by graphic designers, under the supervision of the project coordinator and in accordance with the EU guidelines. The website has been constantly and timely updated with news, promotional material and new project products. The site map included six main sections: (i) About the Project, to introduce the project objectives, the work plan and the partners involved; (ii) News and Events, to promote the research progresses, project meetings and conferences on topics related to DEVOTES and other EU funded projects events; (iii) Research Outputs, to promote and provide easy access to scientific publications, reports and tools developed during the lifetime of the project; (iv) Young Scientist Corner, to present early stage career researchers working in DEVOTES (with the series of interviews “(“PhD students of the Month”) and to promote training and job opportunities within and outside the project; (v) Media Center, to make available the promotional material; and (vi) Partners’ Area, to facilitate the communication within the consortium. A full set of informative and promotional material (factsheets, brochures, and posters) was produced during the project to promote the release of reports, software tools and deliverables. All the promotional products, the website and templates (i.e. for presentations, posters, reports, minutes of meetings) were developed using the corporate image of the project, always including the logo and using a consistent color code.
• Social media: Generic and professional social media tools, such as ResearchGate, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram have exploded in popularity in the last decade, attracting more and more scientists in using them. DEVOTES has been present on a few, carefully selected social media tools, both professional and generic, to take advantage of the specific features of each one. The DEVOTES Dissemination Team created an account and a discussion group in LinkedIn, with 206 members, which served as tool to improve sharing knowledge with other scientists and industry professionals in the marine and environment fields, to enhance the ocean literacy among these two target groups. DEVOTES made its social debut early in 2013 (ca. six months after the beginning of the project), using the most popular platforms: Facebook,, Twitter (@DEVOTESproject) and YouTube ( The social media campaign included publishing posts at least three times per week from the project and project coordinator accounts. To make DEVOTES appealing for the general public and decision makers, the DEVOTES Dissemination Team published posts on the website and social networks in correspondence to environmental days (e.g. the World Water Day -22nd March-, World Oceans Day – 8th June-, etc.), linking the project activities with the topic of each day. For example, in correspondence to the International Day of Biodiversity (22nd May) we linked its topic “Mainstreaming Biodiversity; Sustaining People and their Livelihoods” with the main message of the DEVOTES Final Conference: “Marine biodiversity is the key to healthy and productive seas”. Other messages were dedicated to different categories of stakeholders (e.g. environmental agency, consulting companies) and therefore included more technical aspects, such as the production of the Catalogue of Monitoring Networks and the development of NEAT.
• Mobile apps: mobile devices represent a great opportunity for education, science communication and ocean literacy. To that end, in addition to the social media tools, the DEVOTES dissemination strategy included the development of mobile applications. Three apps were developed: “DevoMAP”, “MY-GES” and “DEVOTES”. All apps are available for iOS and Android devices and downloadable from the project website. DevoMAP and MY-GES were with both aims of disseminating to a wide audience the results from innovative modeling and to attract the attention of the public (including those scientists not involved in marine environmental assessments) in assessments of Good Environmental Status in European regional seas. “DevoMAP” focuses on people directly involved in research and policy, to support the implementation of the MSFD. “MY-GES” targets people interested in our achievements among the general public. By targeting the general public, we aim to make society aware about the MSFD, its implementation and assessments of environmental status. The app focuses on the dissemination of overall project findings and includes the ebook: “DEVOTES”.
• A special effort has been done on networking with stakeholders and workshops organized with them. In total we have organized 4 workshops and our proposal identified 3 general workshops for the entire project duration.
• A video showing the main results of DEVOTES was recorded and made available on Youtube (, and we participated in ‘Futuris’ TV program: DEVOTES was selected by “Futuris”, the award-winning program of EuroNews on European science, research and innovation, as a successful example of project studying the effects of human activities on marine ecosystems, to raise general interest about the environmental status of European seas. The episode “Improving our understanding of our seas” went on air for one week and was then made available on the programme EuroNews YouTube channel. The use of e-media tools for the promotion of the film allowed to reach a wider audience and to increase the social impact.
• During the 48 months of the project 6 e-newsletters and several brief news have been released. The dissemination campaign of DEVOTES was launched with the publication of press releases in the national countries of the members of the consortia, and an email campaign presenting the project and launching the website to all the potential stakeholders. The mailing campaigns continued with regular newsletter (approximately every six months), brief news (every three months), and monthly updates on the project progresses. All the issues have been made available for download on the project website and promoted via the project social networks.
• An open access book composed by 19 chapters has been published in Frontiers in Marine Science. The second edition, which is planned to be released early in 2017, will include 37 chapters (link included above).
• Nine DEVOTES sessions were organized in international conferences: Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation (USA, 2013), European Geophysical Union (Austria, 2014), IMBER (Bergen, June 2014), 4 sessions at the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO, Granada, February 2015), WATERS (Malmo, May, 2015), Annual Conference of the European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists (EAERE, June 2015), and at ECSA (London, September 2015). They included different topics, covering all RTD Work Packages. These nine sessions exceed the 4 expected sessions identified in our proposal for the whole project period.
• DEVOTES members have presented 394 oral presentations and posters at different workshops, conferences and meetings, exceeding the 80 anticipated contributions for the whole project period identified in our proposal.
• Networking with other projects: to assist in dissemination, links have been established with other EU projects (STAGES, COCONET, PERSEUS, MICROB3, COLUMBUS, etc.); previous networks of excellence (e.g. MARBEF, MARINE GENOMICS, EUROMARINE, EMODNET) and end-users (EEA, Competent Authorities of Member States, ICES, HELCOM, OSPAR, Barcelona Convention, Black Sea Commission, other Regional Seas Conventions, etc.), as well as North American organizations (Canadian Healthy Oceans Network). The reasons for this networking were:
o to explore complementarities, in implementing the MSFD, with STAGES project (;
o to develop conceptual approaches, such as those of the DPSIR (Drivers-Pressures-State of Change-Impacts-Responses), with VECTORS project (;
o to promote joint workshops or sessions on aquatic systems assessments, with MARS and WATERS projects (;;
o to share dissemination channels, such as an artistic calendar of the MSFD descriptors, with COCONET project (;
o to coordinate activities at regional sea level, such as those in the Mediterranean, with PERSEUS project (;
o to collaborate in knowledge transfer for Blue Growth, with COLUMBUS project (;
o to promote citizen science, through the MyOSD in the framework of Ocean Sampling Day, with MicroB3 project (;
o to share datasets and tools, with EMODNET and MARMONI (;;
o to develop and use new monitoring tools, such as the Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures (ARMS), with NOAA (;
o to provide advice in developing regional action plans and best practices for integrated monitoring programmes, with ActionMed.
• The partners have trained a total of 27 PhD students (our proposal anticipated at least 7).
• Post-graduate training courses (27) and summer schools (4) have been organized on different topics (our proposal anticipated 2 summer schools and an undetermined number of post-graduate courses for the whole project). The summer schools included current “hot topics” addressed throughout the life of the project by the different partners. In this case, the topics covered were: genomic tools applied to monitoring; new modeling applied to assess the status of marine systems; innovative and integrative ecosystem quality assessment tools; and ecosystem services provided by seas. DEVOTES Summer Schools have attracted both early career and senior researchers alike. Unlike the classic symposium format, where attendants are exposed to many but very short presentations, the longer length of the talks in these Summer Schools allowed the speakers to extensively expose different aspects of the subject and disseminate the results of the project in detail. In addition to the primary dissemination and training tasks, these summer schools had other important objectives: (i) networking with scientists not involved in the project, either as professors or attendees, to bring fresh ideas into the project tasks and deliverables; (ii) give the opportunity to managers, PhD students, Post-Doc and scientists attending the school to learn about emerging concepts that can be incorporated into their daily research; (iii) disseminate the findings among more ample communities, e.g. through the collaboration with organizations such as EuroMarine, an European marine research network (; and (iv) publish position papers on the topics addressed. The Summer Schools have spread the findings of the project to an ample audience, covering more than 30 countries from all continents.
• NEAT was presented in 19 conferences, including 6 training courses, organized as webinars (3) and as physical training workshops (3). The later were organized in collaboration with COLUMBUS project, in Vigo (Spain), with CHONe network, in Montreal (Canada) and with project CBE, in Antalya (Turkey). In total, more than 150 scientists were trained.
• Scientific publications: DEVOTES researchers have achieved an outstanding record of publications. The 177 peer-review papers already published attest to this statement, and exceed the anticipated 50 to 75 papers for the whole project period outlined in the proposal. All papers published by DEVOTES are available in Open Access, via Zenodo ( The main results of the consortium have been published in high impact journals such as Nature Communications, Global Change Biology, or Scientific Reports; and in intermediate impact journals (Ecological Indicators, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Estuarine Coastal and Shelf Science, etc.). As synthesis of the project a paper on communication and another with the global progress made by DEVOTES have been written. Collectively these journals reach a mixed audience of scientists and managers, who are the ultimate end-users of the project outputs. The project has a Google Scholar webpage (, in which it is possible to see that our paper have received until 26th December 2016 a total of 1647 citations and the project has an Hindex of 22.
• Dissemination materials, like posters on monitoring, plates explaining each of the Descriptors from the MSFD, have been also developed during the project. In 2015, DEVOTES decided to include a visual artistic element in its dissemination strategy: in collaboration with the EU project CoCoNet (Towards COast to COast NETworks of Marine Protected Areas coupled with sea-based wind energy potential), an artistic calendar was produced to be distributed to the project stakeholders at the end of the year. The topic of the calendar was the MSFD implementation, including a graphic representation of the 11 MSFD descriptor of Good Environmental Status (GES) which define how to assess the quality of EU marine systems. Each descriptor was represented in an evocative illustration, associated with each month, and briefly outlined in the explanatory text. December’s plate describes an ideal observation system, with which to keep our quality standards under control, and integrate the information to assess the status and achieve GES. The Calendar, distributed to more than 800 relevant stakeholders, was also made available for download from the website, and in only three months the page received more than 600 visits. The plates will be used by the EEA in the reports on marine status in the coming year.
DEVOTES exploitation results:
Until now, the main products of the consortium are the tools that have been developed. The most important contributions beyond the state of the art are:
• DEVOTool: this freely available software (, allows stakeholders, Regional Sea Conventions, Member States, EEA, etc., to search for indicators to assess status, select and refine indicators, and then use them in the assessment tool developed in DEVOTES. It has been updated this year and now it has more than 600 indicators. The EEA has commented its interest in maintaining and using this tool in the future for EIONET.
• The DEVOTES tool NEAT (Nested Environmental status Assessment Tool) provides a means for assessing the environmental status of marine areas according to the MSFD. The tool is hierarchically structured to assess environmental status for different ecosystem components, within different habitats, ensuring optimal weighting of indicators for the overall status assessment. This tool integrates spatial and temporal information, at different scales, together with indicators from different descriptors (which can be selected from DEVOTool). The tool is flexible and can be used for specific MSFD descriptors, for groups of descriptors or for all descriptors combined. Finally, the tool includes an uncertainty assessment of the status, providing confidence estimates of the status classification. The software is freely available at The tool builds on previous assessment tools, exceeds the state-of-the-art, and has been tested in 10 pilot areas across all regional European seas (see publication 158).
• Important progress relating molecular approaches in biodiversity monitoring, for different biodiversity components, has been achieved (e.g. in microbes, phytoplankton, meiofauna and macroinvertebrates). All sequenced species are incorporated in GeneBank and BOLD ( repositories. We have also completed a validation of microarrays to detect Harmful Algae Blooms.

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