Skip to main content
European Commission logo print header

Securing the Conservation of biodiversity across Administrative Levels and spatial, temporal, and Ecological Scales

Final Report Summary - SCALES (Securing the Conservation of biodiversity across Administrative Levels and spatial, temporal, and Ecological Scales)

Executive Summary:
SCALES stands for Securing the Conservation of biodiversity across Administrative Levels and spatial, temporal, and Ecological Scales.

The SCALES project has sought ways to build the issue of scale into policy and decision making and biodiversity management. The general objective of SCALES was to provide the most appropriate assessment tools and policy instruments to foster our capacity for biodiversity conservation across spatial and temporal scales and to disseminate them to a wide range of users. This general objective was broken down into seven detailed objectives:

1) Assess and model the socio-economic driving forces and resulting environmental pressures (habitat loss and fragmentation, changing climate, disturbance) affecting European across scales.
2) Analyse the scale-dependent impacts of these pressures on components of biodiversity ranging from genes to species’ populations to biotic communities and ecosystems;
3) Develop and evaluate new methods for upscaling and downscaling to facilitate the provision of environmental, ecological, and socio-economic information at relevant and matching scales.
4) Assess the effectiveness and efficiency of policy instruments and identify innovative policy instruments to address scale-related conservation problems; improve multilevel biodiversity governance;
5) Evaluate the practical suitability and matching of methods and policy instruments to deliver effective European biodiversity conservation across scales, using networks of protected areas, regional connectivity, and monitoring of status and trend of biodiversity as a common testing ground;
6) Translate the results into policy and management recommendations and integrate them in a web based support tool kit (SCALETOOL) to support sustainable conservation action across scales.
7) Disseminate the results to policy makers, biodiversity managers, scientists, and the general public.

Following these objectives seven Work Packages were established to gain results in terms of an improved scientific knowledge how anthropogenic and natural processes interact across scales and affect biodiversity and how this knowledge can be used to improve the scale-sensitivity and effectiveness of policy instruments for conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. We used approaches that utilize existing biodiversity databases as they are the most widely available information in applied biodiversity conservation and tried to integrate the most appropriate assessment tools and policy instruments into a coherent framework to support biodiversity conservation across spatial and temporal scales. Beside this SCALES has established a Science Policy Dialogue Group to foster exchange with policy and other stakeholders.

Beside the 55 deliverables SCALES has produced more than 160 scientific papers, a broad range of dissemination material to inform the wider public and policy (e.g. leaflets, posters, presentations, newsletters, policy briefs), a book about “Scaling in Ecology and Biodiversity Conservation” ( an Internet portal ( and a web based SCALETOOL ( that is complementary to the book and provides more detailed information, decision support and methodological tools.
Project Context and Objectives:
The continued loss of biodiversity is intimately linked to the issue of scale; the scale at which climate change operates contrasts that at which habitat loss, fragmentation, and disturbance do. Biological processes are also scale-dependent For example, species diversity and whether a species is regarded as rare or abundant and whether it declines or increases often depend on the scale at which the analysis takes place (Storch et al. 2012). Socio-economic drivers of change and their impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems likewise operate at various administrative and temporal scales (Mathevet and Mauchamp 2005, Tzanopolous et al., 2013). Conservation priorities also often change across administrative levels and ignorance of scale may lead to inappropriate allocation of limited conservation resources, e.g. when countries focus conservation resources on species that just reach into their territories and that therefore are rare at the scale of the country but may be very abundant and widespread at the scale of their European distribution (Schmeller et al. 2008a).

There is a long history of disappointments in policy, management, and assessment arising from scale mismatches in social-ecological systems (Cumming et al. 2006). An example of mismatch that is examined in SCALES is the lack of ecological information at the relevant scale in the planning of corridors such as ECONET in Poland (Henle et al. 2010): “In Poland, like in most countries, ecological connectivity is strongly enforced by national law and included in regional plans. However, regional plans are usually not supported by ecological guidelines on species needs of corridors at the regional scale and this practically results in the use of local strategies based on informal rules, experience, and knowledge of stakeholders (Jedrzejewski 2009). When ecological information enters only at the local level, there is a high risk that areas important for the dispersal of large mobile species, such as lynx, wolf, or otter, are not included in the system of regional corridors. This in turn can make the corridor system ineffective.”

Mismatches between ecological scale and governance levels are also common in networks of protected areas. The designation of Natura2000 sites in the Larzac region, south-east of the French Massif Central, is an example (Lepart and Marty 2005). Almost all the area to the south of an administrative border, belonging to the Herault Département in the Languedoc-Roussillon region, was included in the Natura 2000 network (site FR9101385), whereas in the northern part of the plateau, belonging to the Aveyron Département in the Midi-Pyrénées region, only a small area - with almost no agricultural activities – was designated (site FR7300864).

Mismatches between processes of biodiversity change and biodiversity management can be avoided only if we understand how impacts from human actions, driven by social and economic forces, change with scale. For example, gross domestic product and agricultural conversion are not uniformly distributed across Europe and often not within particular Member States (Le Gallo and Ertur 2003, Henle et al. 2008; Tzanopoulos et al., 2013). These driving forces generate various pressures on biodiversity, such as climate change and habitat loss, fragmentation, and disturbance. The pressures in turn impact biodiversity at various levels of biological organisation. All these factors act at characteristic scales and do not necessarily match the scales of social and economic demands, scientific analysis, and governmental or management responses.

Scale sensitivity is thus vital and scale-sensitive drivers may require scale-sensitive policies in order to properly address their impacts on biodiversity. On the other hand, the lack of scale sensitivity requires other types of management tools and policy-making approaches.

Understanding how drivers of change, especially anthropogenic ones, operate and interact at various scales, whether they fit the scales at which organisms and ecosystems function, and the development of policy and management approaches on matching scales remain major challenges in biodiversity conservation. SCALES is tackling these challenges. It combines the expertise of 32 research teams from 20 European countries, Taiwan, and Australia.

Project Results:
SCALES consists of seven thematic work packages (WPs), reflecting the main objectives of the project, plus an additional WP for coordination and management. We analyse and model the scaling properties of anthropogenic and natural drivers and pressures (climate change, habitat loss and fragmentation, and disturbance), their interactions, and their impacts on biodiversity in parallel to the scale sensitivity of policy responses and instruments. The project has developed new methods and approaches for up- and down-scaling of information collected at various scales and innovative policy instruments to address scale mismatches. It also evaluated the need of further coordination of multi-level governance.

SCALES has completed 55 deliverables. Among the highlights are a publication on the Scaling properties and impacts of anthropogenic processes on biodiversity pressures, which identified strong non-linearities of various drivers at different scales as well as across NUTS levels (Tzanopoulos et al., 2013). These non-linearities run through all spatial scales and administrative levels down to the individual protected area. Policies need to take this into account and include flexibility in policy and decision-making at various administrative levels.

Using the data of global distribution of birds, mammals, and amphibians, we have shown that the species-area relationship is at large spatial scales upward-accelerating (in logarithmic space) and that, although the curves are taxon- and continent-dependent, they all collapse into one universal relationship when the axes are rescaled using mean species range size of a given taxon within a given continent. In contrast, the endemics-area relationship is more or less linear, which indicates roughly proportional species extinctions with area loss (Storch et al. 2012). Both total and endemic species richness, and also their rate of change with area, can thus be estimated on the basis of the knowledge of mean species range sizes in the region and mean species richness at one spatial scale.

It is known that climate changes have profound effects on the distribution of numerous plant and animal species. However, whether and how different taxonomic groups are able to track climate changes at large spatial scales is still unclear. In SCALES, we measured and compared the climatic debt accumulated by bird and butterfly communities at a European scale over two decades (1990-2008). Devictor et al. (2012) quantified the yearly change in community composition in response to climate changes for a big number of bird and butterfly communities and have shown that changes in community composition are rapid but different between birds and butterflies. We further found that the northward shift in temperature in Europe was even faster. Our results indicate both that birds and butterflies do not keep up with temperature increase and the accumulation of different climatic debts for these groups at national and continental scales.

National policy reports (Finland, France, Greece, Poland and UK, Primmer et al. in press) found that both adaptiveness and control may promote improvement of scale-effectiveness and scale-sensitivity. Detailed command-and-control legislation designed at central levels of jurisdiction and implemented in a uniform fashion through particular duties can reach conservation targets across multiple scales and be scale-effective if management of scale interactions is part of the design. In contrast, flexible market-oriented instruments and collaborative systems can account for multiple ecological and social factors, and communicate across scales and levels, but might serve the effective reaching of targets across scales less than control-oriented systems do (Paloniemi et al. 2012).

Analyses about fragmentation and habitat loss for priority habitats across different policy scales reveals that Natura 2000 status did not reverse the loss of natural habitats between the years 2000 and 2006. However, the rates of transformation for most Landcover classes were significantly lower within Natura 2000 sites, that seems to offer some protection for natural habitats. Future scenarios suggest that habitat losses will often, but not always, be associated with a reduction in connectivity.

Related to the policy field we also respond in SCALES with analyses related to reformed Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) for 2014–2020, which is allocating almost 40% of the EU's budget and influencing management of half of its terrestrial area. Many EU politicians are announcing the new CAP as “greener,” but Pe’er et al. (2014) could show that the new environmental prescriptions are so diluted that they are unlikely to benefit biodiversity. Individual Member States (MSs), however, can still use flexibility granted by the new CAP to design national plans to protect farmland habitats and species and to ensure long-term provision of ecosystem services.

Detailed analyses on the coherence and ecological sufficiency of existing networks of protected areas across administrative levels demonstrated that the existing conservation networks in Europe are rather coherent offering variable levels of protection. For selected groups of species the Natura 2000 network seems to ensure protection even under global changes. Still, the majority of our results raised some critical issues regarding the increase of the efficiency of the conservation networks. The network design and the prioritization of focal species and habitats to be protected could be strengthened if flexible, multicriteria tools were used that account for different conservation targets at different administrative levels.

We also made assessments of the most appropriate scientific methods, policy instruments, and approaches to promote connectivity and mitigate fragmentation and tried to find ways to improve the matching between policy instruments, monitoring obligations, and scientific assessment methods.

A special web based SCALETOOL ( was designed, implemented, and tested in its full working functionality. Beside this central tool several standalone GIS tools were developed to assess national responsibility, to select optimal sampling points for biodiversity monitoring, and to better describe spatio-temporal patterns of biodiversity.

SCALES has increased its influence and visibility by launching the new scientific open-access online journal Nature Conservation on scale related conservation issues. SCALES has also published a lot of project related information via booklets, Internet, journals, and other media. More than 160 scientific papers were produced during the last five years, among them papers in highest ranked journals like Nature, Nature Climate Change, and Science. However, the main results were compiled in in a freely available book about Scaling in Ecology and Biodiversity Bonservation ( The SCALES book and the SCALETOOL are complementary, highly interrelated, and should be used together.

Potential Impact:
With the end of the current reporting period the SCALES project has been finished. During this period we have continued to test the practical suitability and scale matching of a range of promising approaches, methods, and policy instruments that were identified or developed in the first and second reporting periods within case studies in Greece, Finland, France, Poland, and the UK. These tests have been almost finished at the beginning of the current reporting period. A separate case study has been performed in Taiwan within the simultaneously running national research project SCALES Taiwan.

SCALES has consolidate its results for a better understanding of critical distances to ensure regional connectivity of habitats for various species dispersal distances and of how to identify habitat patches that may be critical to regional connectivity (especially important for Natura 2000 and other networks of protected areas), (ii) for an improved capacity to analyse the coherence and ecological sufficiency of networks of protected areas, taking scale into account; (iii) and for a better capacity to develop ways to improve the scale-related effectiveness of policy instruments for conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. The already existing ß-Version of an on-line webportal developed in the previous reporting period to disseminate the integrated results across the different workpackages for researchers, managers, and policy makers has been extended, tested and finished during this reporting period. The manuscripts for a book to summarize results for a wider public have been finished, reviewed and revised, and the book has been published in both, a printed and an Internet based freely available version. In addition, SCALES has continued its involvement in outreach activities supporting the dissimination of results. Beside the project website at the use of social media, Policy Briefs and Newsletters, the aquiration of manuscripts for the new launched Open Access journal Nature Conservation, we have also explored, among others, options to disseminate results via BISE or the eye-on-earth tool of the EEA.

The objectives of SCALES Taiwan have focused on the application of the developed scale tools to focal species in Taiwan and EU cases. The methods/tools included: downscaling optimal sampling (sdcLHS sampling tool), spatiotemporal analysis tool (QtBME; STAR-BME), and national responsibility assessment tool (NART ArGIS tool). We have assessed the importance of land-use on abiotic variables (habitat characteristics and water chemistry) and biodiversity at multiple spatial and temporal scales, and evaluate what variable(s) associated with community structure, functional traits, and ecosystem functions. Through these applications, we have completed the collation and preparation of existing data for cross-scale testing, evaluation and could validate the performance of proposed scale tools on the suitability to various species and the habitats, as well as assure an effective integration and implementation in SCALE TOOL.

Based on our results from the deliverables of the four reporting periods and an assessment of most appropriate methods, policy instruments, and approaches to promote connectivity and mitigate fragmentation we have prepared recommendations to improve the matching between policy instruments, monitoring obligations, and scientific assessment methods. An already available stand-alone PowerPoint presentation with final recommendations for policy and applied biodiversity conservation has been updated, improved and finished to be used in future science-policy dialogues even after the active period of the SCALES project has been finished.

We are sure that the results we have produced by the SCALES project will not only feed into a wide range of future scientific research but also in to a substantial number of decisions in policy and administration. Beside this they will reach a wider community of citizens either simply interested in nature or also interested in actions contributing to an improved protection of our nature by voluntary and professional work.

Altmoos, M., K. Henle. 2010. Relevance of multiple spatial scales in habitat models: A case study with amphibians and grasshoppers. Acta Oecologica. doi:10.1016/j.actao.2010.08.001.

Behrens, V., F. Rauschmayer, H. Wittmer. 2008. Managing international ‘problem’ species: Why pan-European cormorant management is so difficult. Environmental Conservation 35: 55–63.

Cumming, G.S. D.H.M. Cumming, C.L. Redman. 2006. Scale mismatches in social-ecological systems: Causes, consequences, and solutions. Ecology and Society 11: 14–33.

Debinsky, D.M. C. Ray, E.H. Saveraid. 2001. Species diversity and the scale of the landscape mosaic: Do scales of movement and patch size affect diversity? Biological Conservation 98: 179–190.

Devictor V., Swaay C. van, Brereton T., Brotons L., Chamberlain D., Heliölä J., Herrando S., Julliard R., Kuussaari M., Lindström Å., Reif, J., Roy D.B. Schweiger O., Settele J., Stefanescu C., Strien A.V. Turnhout C.V. Vermouzek Z., WallisDeVries M., Wynhoff I., Jiguet F. 2012. Differences in the climatic debts of birds and butterflies at a continental scale. Nature Climate Change 2, 121–124.

Hartley, S., W.E. Kunin. 2003. Scale dependency of rarity, extinction risk, and conservation priority. Conservation Biology 17: 1559–1570.

Henle, K., C. Bender, K. Schmidt-Loske, U. Asmussen. 1999. PVAs in der Eingriffsplanung am Beispiel der Flurbereinigung von Weinbergen. In: Populationsbiologie in der Naturschutzpraxis. Isolation, Flächenbedarf und Biotopansprüche von Pflanzen und Tieren. Edited by K. Amler, A. Bahl, K. Henle, G. Kaule, P. Poschlod, J. Settele. Stuttgart: Ulmer. 241–248.

Henle, K., K.F. Davies, M. Kleyer, C. Margules, J. Settele. 2004. Predictors of species sensitivity to fragmentation. Biodiversity and Conservation 13: 207–251.

Henle, K. et al. 2008. Identifying and managing the conflicts between agriculture and biodiversity conservation in Europe – A review. Agriculture Ecosystems and Environment 124: 60–71.

Henle, K., W. Kunin, O. Schweiger, D.S. Schmeller, V. Grobelnik, Y. Matsinos, J. Pantis, L. Penev, S.G. Potts, I. Ring, J. Similä, J. Tzanopoulos, S. van den Hove, M. Baguette, J. Clobert, L. Excoffier, E. Framstad, M. Grodinska-Jurczak, S. Lengyel, P. Marty, A. Moilanen, E. Porcher, D. Storch, I. Steffan-Dewenter, M.T. Sykes, M. Zobel & J. Settele (2010): Securing the conservation of biodiversity across administrative levels and spatial, temporal, and ecological scales. GAIA 19/3: 187-193.

Jedrzejewski,W. 2009. The network of ecological corridors connecting the protected areas in Poland. In: Ochorna łacznosci ekologicznej Polski. Edited by W. Jedrzejewski, D. Ławreszuk. Białowieza, PL: Zakład Badania SsakoÅLw. Polskiej Akademii Nauk. 71–82 (in Polish).

Julliard R, Jiguet F & Couvet D (2003) Common birds facing global changes: what makes a species at risk? Global Change Biology 10: 148-154.

Le Gallo, J., C. Ertur. 2003. Exploratory spatial data analysis of the distribution of regional per capita GDP in Europe, 1980–1995. Papers in Regional Science 82: 175–201.

Lepart, J., P. Marty. 2005. La mise en oeuvre du réseau Natura 2000: Questions à l’écologie scientifique. In: Natura 2000. De l’injonction européenne aux négo ciations locales. Edited by J. Dubois, S. Maljean-Dubois. Paris: La Documentation Française. 27– 44.

Mathevet, R., A. Mauchamp. 2005. Evidence-based conservation: Dealing with social issues. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 20: 422– 423.

Paloniemi, R., Apostolopoulou, E., Primmer, E., Grodzinska-Jurczak, M., Henle, K., Ring, I., Kettunen, M., Tzanopoulos, J., Potts, S., van der Hove, S., Marty, P., McConville, A., Similä, J. (2012): Biodiversity conservation across scales: lessons from a science-policy dialogue. Nature Conservation 2:7-19. doi: 10.3897/natureconservation.2.3144.

Pe'er, G., Dicks, L.V. Visconti, P., Arlettaz, R., Báldi, A., Benton, T.G. Collins, S.; Dieterich, M.; Gregory, R.D.; Hartig, F.; Henle, K.; Hobson, P.R.; Kleijn, D.; Neumann, R.K.; Robijns, T.; Schmidt, J.; Shwartz, A.; Sutherland, W.J.; Turbé, A.; Wulf, F. & Scott, A.V. (2014): EU agricultural reform fails on biodiversity. Science 344 (6188): 1090-1092.

Schmeller, D.S. B. Gruber, E. Budrys, E. Framstad, S. Lengyel, K. Henle. 2008a. National responsibilities in European species conservation: A methodological review. Conservation Biology 22: 593–601.

Steinicke, H., K. Henle, H. Gruttke. 2002. Bewertung der Verantwortlichkeit Deutschlands für die Erhaltung von Amphibien- und Reptilienarten. Bonn: Bundesamt für Naturschutz.

Storch, D., Keil, P., Jetz, W. (2012): Universal species–area and endemics–area relationships at continental scales. Nature. doi:10.1038/nature11226

Tzanopoulos, J., R. Mouttet, A. Letourneau, I.N. Vogiatzakis, S.G. Potts, K. Henle, R. Mathevet & P. Marty (2013): Scale sensitivity of drivers of environmental change across Europe. Global Environmental Change 23: 167-178.

Verburg, P.H. van Berkel, D.B van Doorn, A.M. van Eupen, M., van den Heiligenberg, H.A.R.M. (2010): Trajectories of land use change in Europe: a model-based exploration of rural futures. Landscape Ecology. 25 (2): 217-232, DOI: 10.1007/s10980-009-9347-7

List of Websites:
SCALES public website:

Prof. Dr. Klaus Henle
SCALES Coordinator
Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ
Department Conservation Biology
Permoserstrasse 15
04318 Leipzig