Environmental Management

, Volume 60, Issue 2, pp 216–230 | Cite as

Ecological Equivalence Assessment Methods: What Trade-Offs between Operationality, Scientific Basis and Comprehensiveness?

  • Lucie BezombesEmail author
  • Stéphanie Gaucherand
  • Christian Kerbiriou
  • Marie-Eve Reinert
  • Thomas Spiegelberger


In many countries, biodiversity compensation is required to counterbalance negative impacts of development projects on biodiversity by carrying out ecological measures, called offset when the goal is to reach “no net loss” of biodiversity. One main issue is to ensure that offset gains are equivalent to impact-related losses. Ecological equivalence is assessed with ecological equivalence assessment methods taking into account a range of key considerations that we summarized as ecological, spatial, temporal, and uncertainty. When equivalence assessment methods take into account all considerations, we call them “comprehensive”. Equivalence assessment methods should also aim to be science-based and operational, which is challenging. Many equivalence assessment methods have been developed worldwide but none is fully satisfying. In the present study, we examine 13 equivalence assessment methods in order to identify (i) their general structure and (ii) the synergies and trade-offs between equivalence assessment methods characteristics related to operationality, scientific-basis and comprehensiveness (called “challenges” in his paper). We evaluate each equivalence assessment methods on the basis of 12 criteria describing the level of achievement of each challenge. We observe that all equivalence assessment methods share a general structure, with possible improvements in the choice of target biodiversity, the indicators used, the integration of landscape context and the multipliers reflecting time lags and uncertainties. We show that no equivalence assessment methods combines all challenges perfectly. There are trade-offs between and within the challenges: operationality tends to be favored while scientific basis are integrated heterogeneously in equivalence assessment methods development. One way of improving the challenges combination would be the use of offset dedicated data-bases providing scientific feedbacks on previous offset measures.


Biodiversity offset Ecological equivalence Ecological equivalence assessment methods No net loss Mitigation hierarchy Compensation 



We are thankful to Constance Bersok, Joseph William Bull, Cara Clark, Christian Küpfer, Frank Lupi, Charles K. Minns, Akira Tanaka, and all other experts who filled in the questionnaire, for their relevant comments and advice on Equivalence Assessment Methods. We also thank Serge Muller and Sylvain Pioch for their useful comments on an earlier draft of this article. This research was financed by the French government “CIFRE” grant for PhD students and Electricité de France (EDF).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Supplementary material

267_2017_877_MOESM1_ESM.docx (100 kb)
Supplementary Material


  1. Anderson P (1995) Ecological restoration and creation: a review. Biol J Linnean Soc 56:187–211CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Andreasen JK, O’Neill RV, Noss R, Slosser NC (2001) Considerations for the development of a terrestrial index of ecological integrity. Ecol Indic 1:21–35CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bas A, Jacob C, Hay J, Pioch S, Thorin S (2016) Improving marine biodiversity offsetting: A proposed methodology for better assessing losses and gains. J Environ Manage 175:46–59CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Beier P, Noss RF (1998) Do habitat corridors provide connectivity? Conser Biol 12:1241–1252CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bekessy SA, Wintle BA, Lindenmayer DB, McCarthy MA, Colyvan M, Burgman MA, Possingham HP (2010) The biodiversity bank cannot be a lending bank. Conser Lett 3:151–158CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bensettiti F, Puissauve R, Lepareur F, Touroult J, Maciejewski L (2012) Evaluation de l’état de conservation des habitats et des espèces d’intérêt communautaire–Guide méthodologique–DHFF article 17, 2007 - 2012. Version 1–Février 2012. Rapport SPN 2012-27. Service du patrimoine naturel, Mus Natl Hist Nat, Paris, 76 p.+annexesGoogle Scholar
  7. Biggs R, Reyers B, Scholes RJ (2006) A biodiversity intactness score for South Africa. S Afr J Sci 102:277Google Scholar
  8. Boulton AJ (1999) An overview of river health assessment: philosophies, practice, problems and prognosis. Freshw Biol 41:469–479CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Brownlie S, Botha M (2009) Biodiversity offsets: adding to the conservation estate, or ‘no net loss’? Impact Assess Proj Appraisal 27:227–231CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bruggeman DJ, Jones ML, Lupi F, Scribner KT (2005) Landscape equivalency analysis: Methodology for estimating spatially explicit biodiversity credits. Environ Manage 36:518CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bull JW, Hardy MJ, Moilanen A, Gordon A (2015) Categories of flexibility in biodiversity offsetting, and their implications for conservation. Biol Conserv 192:522–532CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bull JW, Milner-Gulland EJ, Suttle KB, Singh NJ (2014) Comparing biodiversity offset calculation methods with a case study in Uzbekistan. Biol Conserv 178:2–10CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Bull JW, Suttle KB, Gordon A, Singh NJ, Milner-Gulland EJ (2013) Biodiversity offsets in theory and practice. Oryx 47:369–380CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Burrows L (2014). Somerset habitat evaluation procedure methodology. Somerset County CouncilGoogle Scholar
  15. Business and Biodiversity Offsets Programme (BBOP) (2009) Biodiversity Offset Design Handbook: Appendices. BBOP, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  16. Business and Biodiversity Offsets Programme (BBOP) (2012a) Biodiversity Offset Design Handbook Updated. BBOP, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  17. Business and Biodiversity Offsets Programme (BBOP) (2012b) Resource Paper: No Net Loss and Loss‐Gain Calculations in Biodiversity Offsets. BBOP, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  18. Business and Biodiversity Offsets Programme (BBOP) (2014a) Working towards NNL of Biodiversity and Beyond: Ambatovy, Madagascar–A Case Study. BBOP, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  19. Business and Biodiversity Offsets Programme (BBOP) (2014b) Working towards NNL of Biodiversity and Beyond: Strongman Mine–A Case Study. BBOP, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  20. California Wetlands Monitoring Workgroup (CWMW) (2013). California Rapid Assessment Method (CRAM) for Wetlands Version 6.1. 67Google Scholar
  21. Cochrane JF, Lonsdorf E, Allison TD, Sanders-Reed CA (2015) Modeling with uncertain science: estimating mitigation credits from abating lead poisoning in Golden Eagles. Ecol Appl 25:1518–1533CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Commissariat Général au Développement Durable (CGDD) (2012). La compensation des atteintes à la biodiversité à l'étranger–Etude de parangonnage. Collection « Études et documents » du Service de l’Économie, de l’Évaluation et de l’Intégration du Développement Durable (SEEIDD) du Commissariat Général au Développement Durable (CGDD)Google Scholar
  23. Cuperus R, Bakermans MMGJ, Udo de Haes HA, Canters KJ (2001) Ecological compensation in Dutch highways planning. Environ Manage 27:75–89CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Curran M, Hellweg S, Beck J (2013) Is there any empirical support for biodiversity offset policy? Ecol Appl 24:617–632CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Darbi M. & Tausch C. (2010). Loss-Gain calculations in German Impact Mitigation Regulation. Occasional paper contributed to BBOPGoogle Scholar
  26. Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs D (2012) Biodiversity Offsetting Pilots Technical Paper the metric for the biodiversity offsetting pilot in England. Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (DREFA), LondonGoogle Scholar
  27. Duel H, Specken BPM, Denneman WD, Kwakernaak C (1995) The habitat evaluation procedure as a tool for ecological rehabilitation of wetlands in The Netherlands. Water Sci Technol 31:387–391CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Dunford RW, Ginn TC, Desvousges WH (2004) The use of habitat equivalency analysis in natural resource damage assessments. Ecol Econ 48:49–70CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. (EEC) E.E.C. (1992) Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora. Off J Eur Union 206:7–50Google Scholar
  30. (EEC) E.E.C. (2009) Directive 2009/147/EC of the european parliament and of the council of 30 november 2009 on the conservation of wild birds on the conservation of wild birds (codified version). Off J L20:7–25Google Scholar
  31. Foltête J-C, Clauzel C, Vuidel G (2012) A software tool dedicated to the modelling of landscape networks. Environ Model Softw 38:316–327CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Freckleton RP (2002) On the misuse of residuals in ecology: regression of residuals vs. multiple regression. J Animal Ecol 71:542–545CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Gardner TA, Von Hase A, Brownlie S, Ekstrom JMM, Pilgrim JD, Savy CE, Stephens RTT, Treweek J, Ussher GT, Ward G, Ten Kate K (2013) Biodiversity offsets and the challenge of achieving no net loss. Conser Biol 27:1254–1264CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Gaucherand S, Schwoertzig E, Clement JC, Johnson B, Quetier F (2015) The cultural dimensions of freshwater wetland assessments: lessons learned from the application of US rapid assessment methods in France. Environ Manage 56(1):245–259CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Gibbons P, Briggs SV, Ayers D, Seddon J, Doyle S, Cosier P, McElhinny C, Pelly V, Roberts K (2009) An operational method to assess impacts of land clearing on terrestrial biodiversity. Ecol Indic 9:26–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Gibbons P, Lindenmayer DB (2007) Offsets for land clearing: No net loss or the tail wagging the dog? Ecol Manage Restor 8:26–31CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Gonçalves B, Marques A, Soares AMVDM, Pereira HM (2015) Biodiversity offsets: from current challenges to harmonized metrics. Curr Opin Environ Sustain 14:61–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Gordon A, Bull JW, Wilcox C, Maron M (2015) Perverse incentives risk undermining biodiversity offset policies. J Appl Ecol 52:532–537CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Hooper DU, Adair EC, Cardinale BJ, Byrnes JE, Hungate BA, Matulich KL, O’Connor MI (2012) A global synthesis reveals biodiversity loss as a major driver of ecosystem change. Nature 486(7401):105–108Google Scholar
  40. Husson F, Josse J, Le S, Mazet J, Husson MF (2015) Package ‘FactoMineR’Google Scholar
  41. Jaunatre R, Buisson E, Dutoit T (2014) Can ecological engineering restore Mediterranean rangeland after intensive cultivation? A large-scale experiment in southern France. Ecol Eng 64:202–212CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Kiesecker JM, Copeland H, Pocewicz A, Nibbelink N, McKenney B, Dahlke J, Holloran M, Stroud D (2009) A Framework for Implementing Biodiversity Offsets: Selecting Sites and Determining Scale. BioScience 59:77–84CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Koen EL, Bowman J, Sadowski C, Walpole AA (2014) Landscape connectivity for wildlife: development and validation of multispecies linkage maps. Methods Ecol Evol 5:626–633CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Laitila J, Moilanen A, Pouzols FM (2014) A method for calculating minimum biodiversity offset multipliers accounting for time discounting, additionality and permanence. Methods Ecol Evol 5:1247–1254CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Laycock HF, Moran D, Raffaelli DG, White PCL (2013) Biological and operational determinants of the effectiveness and efficiency of biodiversity conservation programs. Wildlife Res 40:142–152CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Levrel H, Pioch S, Spieler R (2012) Compensatory mitigation in marine ecosystems: which indicators for assessing the “no net loss” goal of ecosystem services and ecological functions? Marine Policy 36:1202–1210CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Madsen B, Moore Brands K, Carroll N (2010). State of biodiversity markets: offset and compensation programs worldwideGoogle Scholar
  48. Maron M, Dunn PK, McAlpine CA, Apan A, Maron M, Dunn PK, McAlpine CA, Apan A, Maron M, Dunn PK, McAlpine CA, Apan A (2010) Can offsets really compensate for habitat removal? The case of the endangered red-tailed black-cockatoo. J Appl Ecol 47:348CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Maron M, Hobbs RJ, Moilanen A, Matthews JW, Christie K, Gardner TA, Keith DA, Lindenmayer DB, McAlpine CA (2012) Faustian bargains? Restoration realities in the context of biodiversity offset policies. Biol Conserv 155:141–148CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. McCarthy MA, Parris KM, Van Der Ree R, McDonnell MJ, Burgman MA, Williams NSG, McLean N, Harper MJ, Meyer R, Hahs A, Coates T (2004) The habitat hectares approach to vegetation assessment: an evaluation and suggestions for improvement. Ecol Manage Restor 5:24–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. McKenney B, Kiesecker J (2010) Policy development for biodiversity offsets: a review of offset frameworks. Environ Manage 45:165–176CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Meineri E, Deville AS, Gremillet D, Gauthier-Clerc M, Bechet A (2015) Combining correlative and mechanistic habitat suitability models to improve ecological compensation. Biol Rev 90:314–329CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Minns CK, Moore JE, Stoneman M, Cudmore-Vokey B (2001) Defensible methods of assessing fish habitat: lacustrine habitats in the great lakes basin-conceptual basis and approach using a habitat suitability matrix (hsm) method. Canadian Manuscript Report of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 2559Google Scholar
  54. Moilanen A, Van Teeffelen AJA, Ben-Haim Y, Ferrier S (2009) How much compensation is enough? A framework for incorporating uncertainty and time discounting when calculating offset ratios for impacted habitat. Restor Ecol 17:470–478CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. NOAA (1995) Habitat equivalency analysis: An overview. Prepared by the damage assessment and restoration program, March 21st 1995. Revised October 4th 2000. NOAA, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  56. NOAA (1997) Scaling compensatory restoration action: Guidance document for natural resource damage assessment under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. Damage Assessment and Restoration Program. NOAA, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  57. Norton DA (2009) Biodiversity offsets: two New Zealand case studies and an assessment framework. Environ Manage 43:698–706CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Noss RF (1990) Indicators for monitoring biodiversity: a hierarchical approach. Conserv Biol 4(4):355–364Google Scholar
  59. Parkes D, Newell G, Cheal D (2003) Assessing the quality of native vegetation: The ‘habitat hectares’ approach. Ecol Manage Restor 4:S29–S38CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Pereira HM, Ferrier S, Walters M, Geller GN, Jongman RHG, Scholes RJ, Bruford MW, Brummitt N, Butchart SHM, Cardoso AC, Coops NC, Dulloo E, Faith DP, Freyhof J, Gregory RD, Heip C, Höft R, Hurtt G, Jetz W, Karp DS, McGeoch MA, Obura D, Onoda Y, Pettorelli N, Reyers B, Sayre R, Scharlemann JPW, Stuart SN, Turak E, Walpole M, Wegmann M (2013) Essential biodiversity variables. Science 339:277–278CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Pöll CE, Willner W, Wrbka T (2016) Challenging the practice of biodiversity offsets: ecological restoration success evaluation of a large-scale railway project. Landsc Ecol Eng 12(1):85–97Google Scholar
  62. Quétier F, Lavorel S (2011) Assessing ecological equivalence in biodiversity offset schemes: Key issues and solutions. Biol Conserv 144:2991–2999CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Quétier F, Regnery B, Levrel H (2014) No net loss of biodiversity or paper offsets? A critical review of the French no net loss policy. Environ Sci Policy 38:120–131CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Race MS, Fonseca MS (1996) Fixing compensatory mitigation: what will it take? Ecol Appl 6:94–101CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Regnery B, Couvet D, Kerbiriou C (2013a) Offsets and conservation of the species of the eu habitats and birds directives. Conserv Biol 27(6):1335–1343CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Regnery B, Kerbiriou C, Julliard R, Vandevelde JC, Le Viol I, Burylo M, Couvet D (2013b) Sustain common species and ecosystem functions through biodiversity offsets: response to Pilgrim et al. Conserv Lett 6:385–386Google Scholar
  67. Regnery B, Couvet D, Kubarek L, Julien J-F, Kerbiriou C (2013c) Tree microhabitats as indicators of bird and bat communities in Mediterranean forests. Ecol Indic 34:221–230CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Roach B, Wade WW (2006) Policy evaluation of natural resource injuries using habitat equivalency analysis. Ecol Econ 58:421–433CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Saenz S, Walschburger T, Gonzalez JC, Leon J, McKenney B, Kiesecker J (2013) A framework for implementing and valuing biodiversity offsets in colombia: a landscape scale perspective. Sustainability 5:4961–4987CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Sala OE, Stuart Chapin III F, Armesto JJ, Berlow E, Bloomfield J, Dirzo R, Huber-Sanwald E, Huenneke LF, Jackson RB, Kinzig A, Leemans R, Lodge DM, Mooney HA, Oesterheld Mn, Poff NL, Sykes MT, Walker BH, Walker M, Wall DH (2000) Global biodiversity scenarios for the year 2100. Science 287:1770–1774CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Specht A, Guru S, Houghton L, Keniger L, Driver P, Ritchie EG, Lai K, Treloar A (2015) Data management challenges in analysis and synthesis in the ecosystem sciences. Sci Total Environ 534:144–158CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. State of Florida (2004). F-DEP UMAM Chapter 62–345Google Scholar
  73. ten Kate K, Bishop J, Bayon R (2004) Biodiversity offsets: Views, experience, and the business case. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK and Insight Investment, London, UKGoogle Scholar
  74. Tischew S, Baasch A, Conrad MK, Kirmer A (2010) Evaluating Restoration Success of Frequently Implemented Compensation Measures: Results and Demands for Control Procedures. Restor Ecol 18:467–480CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Tischew S, Kirmer A (2007) Implementation of Basic Studies in the Ecological Restoration of Surface‐Mined Land. Restor Ecol 15:321–325CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Treweek J, Butcher B, Temple H (2010) Biodiversity offsets: possible methods for measuring biodiversity losses and gains for use in the UK. Practice 69:29–32Google Scholar
  77. US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) (1980). Habitat Evaluation ProcedureGoogle Scholar
  78. Virah-Sawmy M, Ebeling J, Taplin R (2014) Mining and biodiversity offsets: A transparent and science-based approach to measure “no-net-loss”. J Environ Manage 143:61–70CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Vitousek PM, Mooney HA, Lubchenco J, Melillo JM (1997) Human Domination of Earth’s Ecosystems. Science 277:494–499CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Wende W, Herberg A, Herzberg A (2005) Mitigation banking and compensation pools: improving the effectiveness of impact mitigation regulation in project planning procedures. Impact Assess Proj Appraisal 23:101–111CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Walker KJ, Stevens PA, Stevens DP, Mountford JO, Manchester SJ, Pywell RF (2004) The restoration and re-creation of species-rich lowland grassland on land formerly managed for intensive agriculture in the UK. Biol Conserv 119:1–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Université Grenoble AlpesSt-Martin-d’HèresFrance
  2. 2.EDF R&D, Laboratoire National d’Hydraulique et EnvironnementChatouFrance
  3. 3.Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, UMR7204Center d’Ecologie et de Sciences de la ConservationParisFrance
  4. 4.European Institute for Energy ResearchKarlsruheGermany

Personalised recommendations