Fitness consequence criterion in marine biological valuation

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This article summaries the importance of areas and the activities occuring in the marine environment to the survival of individuals and populations of marine species. It forms part of discussions centred around valuing the marine environment at a workshop held from 6 to 8 December 2006 at Ghent (Belgium). The workshop was a joint venture of the EU CA ENCORA ( and the EU NoE MARBEF ( Both Theme 7 within ENCORA and Theme 3 within MARBEF deal with marine/coastal biological valuation and the workshop aimed to reach a consensus on this topic.


The ‘fitness consequences’ criterion is defined[1] as the degree to which an area is a site where the activity(ies) undertaken make a vital contribution to the fitness (= increased survival or reproduction) of the population or species present..[2]

This criterion distinguishes subzones where natural activities take place that contribute significantly to the survival or reproduction of a species or population. These are not necessarily areas where species or individuals aggregate.

Application of the criterion

When genetic data are available for the study area, which is rarely the case, these can be used to locate subzones where a high diversity of genetic stocks of a species occurs. The occurrence of genetically variable individuals could significantly improve the survival of a species in the study area, because it enables the selective adaptation of the species to changing environmental conditions.

It is also possible to determine the location of subzones with fitness consequences for a species. These could be subzones where individuals stop for a certain amount of time to feed or rest, which will lead to higher reproduction (e.g. bigger/more young).

Also, the presence of structural habitat features or keystone species may enhance the survival or reproduction of species by providing refuge from predators or key resources.


These paragraphs are based on the paper of Derous et al. (2007). A concept for biological valuation in the marine environment. Oceanologia 49 (1). See FLANDERS MARINE INSTITUTE web site at [1] for the full citation and to download a copy of the paper.


  1. Derous S., Agardy T., Hillewaert H., Hostens K., Jamieson G., Lieberknecht L., Mees J., Moulaert I., Olenin S., Paelinckx D., Rabaut M., Rachor E., Roff J., Stienen E.W.M., van der Wal J.T., Van Lancker V., Verfaillie E., Vincx M., Weslawski J.M., Degraer S. (2007). A concept for biological valuation in the marine environment. Oceanologia 49 (1).
  2. DFO (2004). Identification of ecologically and biologically significant areas. DFO Can. Sci. Adv. Sec. Ecosystem Status Report 2004/006.