Integrating habitat preferences into Ecospace for spatial management – Examples from the southern North Sea

Wednesday 5 April 2023, 18:00 CEST (Brussels, Amsterdam, Madrid)

Talk description

The habitat foraging capacity model adds new capabilities when it comes to accounting for species distributions in Ecospace. Not only does it allow for the implementation of foraging responses to environmental drivers, but it also enables the user to implement habitat preference maps derived directly from species distribution models. Combined with the spatio-temporal framework, it becomes a powerful tool for driving shifts in species distributions within Ecospace.

Despite this capability, there is a risk of defining overly restrictive habitat preferences, which can hinder the distinction between trophic and external drivers. Using a retrospective analysis, several Ecospace configurations were tested in their ability to forecast observed biomass trends and distributions. Two definitions of habitat preference were compared, one based on abundance hot-spots or a more general one based on presence/absence.

Furthermore, the frequency of habitat updating was also evaluated. In order to validate the results, a skill assessment routine was developed for the Ecospace outputs that allows a temporal, spatial and spatio-temporal assessment. Using the final Ecospace model for the southern North Sea, the impact of area closures for fishing on the ecosystem was evaluated. Spatial planning objectives from the energy sector and conservation efforts (EU 2030 Biodiversity Strategy) demand re-distribution of fishing effort, consequently leading to contrasting interests and potential conflicts. With Ecospace and the ECOIND plug-in, trade-offs resulting from such conflicts and prospective changes in ecosystem health, food web structure and fisheries yield were assessed.


Dr. Miriam Püts is a research associate at the Thünen Institute of Sea Fisheries in Germany, focusing on spatial ecosystem modelling. During her PhD at the Thünen Institute of Sea Fisheries and the University of Hamburg, she developed an Ecospace model representing the southern North Sea. The model utilizes the spatial-temporal framework in combination with the habitat foraging capacity model, allowing to implement species habitat preferences derived from single species distribution models and account for shifts in distribution over time. Currently, her main research focus is the impact assessment of species distribution and shifts thereof, caused by external environmental drivers, such as the impacts of spatial closures to fisheries and climate change in the region.