Call for research Towards ecosystem-based aquatic management

Last reviewed: ‎06‎ ‎May‎ ‎2024

The Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, and Formas are jointly announcing this call for research aimed at developing new knowledge to improve the conditions for implementing ecosystem-based management of aquatic ecosystems.

Individual researchers or research groups are invited to apply for funding for research projects for up to three years (2025–2027). The total budget for the call is approximately SEK 40 million. The deadline for applications is September 12th, 2024.

Aim and target groups

The call aims to produce knowledge that supports the work of authorities and other societal actors to develop ecosystem-based management of aquatic ecosystems, both in fresh and salt water. The knowledge needs have been grouped into three focus areas that can benefit from being combined:

A: A system perspective of ecosystem-based aquatic management

B: Practical management of the seal species and the great cormorant

C: Efficient, adaptive, and legitimate management

The primary target groups are the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management, and county administrative boards. The issues are also of great relevance to municipalities, the fishing industry, the tourism industry and anglers', hunters' and nature conservation organisations, politicians who shape Swedish and international fisheries policy and wildlife policy, and the public.

Knowledge needs

The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency and the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management have important roles in the work of conducting and developing parts of ecosystem-based aquatic management in Sweden. This includes the management of top predators such as the various seal species and cormorants, which in turn is strongly linked to the management of sea and freshwater environments, not least fisheries management. The county administrative boards (including their responsibilities as water authorities) play important roles in aquatic management at local and regional level.

The call applies the following description of ecosystem-based management taken from the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management project Ecosystem-based marine management - Planning, management, and collaboration:

"Ecosystem-based management shall be characterised by a holistic view of the conservation and sustainable use of ecosystems. This means, among other things, that the holistic approach must consider that different species in an ecosystem affect each other and that the interaction between humans and the environment often spans several sectors of society. In order for it to be based on the best available knowledge and gain acceptance, it must also be adaptive and characterised by transparency, openness and the active participation of a wide range of actors and stakeholders."

Swedish authorities have a great need for new knowledge to support ecosystem-based management at all levels of government (local, regional, national and EU). Ecosystem-based management places high demands on knowledge about the functions and dynamics of ecosystems, the role of specific species in ecosystems, and connections between species, species groups and ecosystems. It also requires new types of tools to increase understanding of dynamics in the food web and ecosystems, management of conflicting goals, efficient participatory processes, coordination and involvement of stakeholders in management. Ecosystem-based management also requires systems for monitoring and following up measures implemented by the administration in order to be adaptive and learning.

This research initiative is expected to provide important input to the authorities' work on relevant environmental quality objectives, the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, the Marine Spatial Planning Directive, the Habitats Directive, management plans for cormorants and seal species, the strategy for Swedish wildlife management, the strategy for Swedish fisheries and aquaculture, and the EU's Common Fisheries Policy and national fisheries management. Sweden's work within international agreements and bodies such as HELCOM (Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission), OSPAR Commission (Oslo and Paris conventions for protection of the marine environment of the North-East Atlantic) and ICES (International Council for Exploration of the Sea) as well as the sustainable development goal on oceans and marine resources (SDG14) within Agenda 2030 is also expected to benefit.

Research priorities

There is a need for research in natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities. Examples of knowledge that are in demand are given below within the three focus areas A-C in no particular order of priority. An application can focus on one or more of the prioritised research themes within focus areas A, B and C. Project applications regarding research questions under A and B could usefully be combined with research questions listed under C.

Focus area A — A systems perspective of ecosystem-based aquatic management

The research should provide new knowledge to support the development and implementation of an adaptive ecosystem-based aquatic management through an increased understanding of how different ecosystems function. Knowledge of the importance of biodiversity needs to be deepened, in terms of the composition and functions of ecosystems, their productivity, and their resilience to impacts and changes. This will lead to insights into which management measures can strengthen the resilience of ecosystems.

In addition, knowledge is needed about the dynamics between species and conditions in the food web. The research should contribute to the further development of assessments and measures in accordance with the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) descriptor 4 (D4), marine food webs. We are looking for research on, for example:

  • Characteristics of ecosystem architecture and the balance between different trophic levels, including anthropogenic impacts, that create resilience and mitigate risks of regime change and adverse cascading effects, as well as effective management measures to strengthen or restore resilient ecosystems.
  • How fishing and natural predation change the age and size structure of fish communities and the consequences for the structure and function of ecosystems.
  • The ecological functions of predatory fish in different life stages and sizes, and how this is affected by fishing, natural predation and size structure in fish communities.
  • Development of indicators and tools to adaptively evaluate the impact of management measures, as well as to assess cumulative effects on ecosystems and relationships between coastal and offshore systems.
  • Further development and verification of food web models can contribute to an increased understanding of both top-down and bottom-up processes. 
  • The importance of genetic differentiation and locally adapted populations of, for example fish, for management.

Focus area B — Practical management of the seal species and great cormorant

The research should develop new knowledge and new tools specifically for the management of great cormorants, grey seals, harbor seals and ringed seals. Knowledge and management tools should be used to implement and further develop the national management plans for these species. In an adaptive system, a well-functioning methodology for monitoring the populations is needed to be able to follow and evaluate the effects and the fulfilment of the aims of different management measures.

Furthermore, there is a need to develop assessment methodology, indicators and threshold values that describe population status, resilience to disturbances and resilience. We are looking for research on great cormorants and the different seal species, for example:

  • Food choices in relation to species composition and size structure of fish communities. Increased knowledge of this makes it possible to analyse food selection processes in different aquatic environments such as the Baltic Sea, the North Sea and, for great cormorants, freshwater environments. Analyses of the impact of top predators on species composition and size structure in fish populations and communities.
  • Energy needs and food choices in relation to the energy content of different fish species.
  • Food web connections and trophic cascades linked to the top predators in different ecosystems. For example, the extent to which top predators can contribute to a decline in the number of pike and perch, which in turn allows for an increase in the number of sticklebacks along the coast in parts of the Baltic Sea.
  • Development of methodology for population monitoring. The methodology should include studies of the species' habitat use in time and space, as well as migration patterns and related effects on ecosystems. There is a particular research need in this area for ringed seals. Applications for funding for projects regarding more general development of surveillance are referred to the research call

    Environmental monitoring of the future
  • Development of population models that allow forecasts and analyses of the effects of hunting and other management measures on top predator populations and their prey fish, for example prior to inform annual decisions on hunting concessions.
  • Evaluation and development of management measures, such as hunting, deterrents, and closure of bays, to manage conflicting objectives in the management of fish, great cormorants and seal species.
  • Reproduction and migration patterns in a changing environment to support future revisions of hunting seasons.

Focus area C — Efficient, adaptive, and legitimate management

The research shall support long-term sustainable, efficient, adaptive, and legitimate ecosystem-based aquatic management. Central to achieving ecosystem-based management is the interaction between humans and the environment. Awareness of how humans affect marine and freshwater environments and vice versa needs to increase at all levels. This includes the development of tools for the management of different resources, conflicts between management objectives and trade-offs between different ecosystem services.

There is also a need for new processes for decision-making and participation, as well as the coordination and involvement of stakeholders at all stages of the management cycle. The research should contribute knowledge that provides conditions for learning, participation and collaboration between different actors in the implementation of ecosystem-based aquatic management. Furthermore, the research should be able to provide answers regarding which management measures have the potential to be implemented in order to achieve the desired effects. We are looking for research covering a range of perspectives, for example:

  • The management perspective: Conditions to develop and implement a legitimate and adaptive ecosystem-based aquatic management that considers legal, organisational and resource-based aspects at different level, and contributes to increasing the ability to handle various ecological, economic and social challenges.
  • Democracy/collaboration perspective: Development of inclusive and equitable dialogue and collaboration processes, with the ability to manage conflicts of interest and uncertainty, division of responsibilities between actors. Processes that contribute to improved knowledge exchange/learning in the short and long term, as well as coordinated follow-up of measures within ecosystem-based aquatic management.
  • Socio-economic analyses: Socio-economic or social analyses of the impact of ecosystem changes and management measures, including their impact on coastal communities and ecosystem services. Management of conflicting goals, including conflicts between animals and humans, but also between different groups/interests in society. Inspiration for the analyses may be drawn from studies concerning wildlife management of other species groups.
  • Attitude surveys: Attitudes and values of stakeholders towards cormorants and seals, as well as analysis of sustainable use of these species and their socioeconomic importance for hunting, fishing, outdoor recreation, and tourism; including food security and the impact of trade restrictions. Inspiration for the attitude surveys may be drawn from studies concerning wildlife management of other species groups.
  • Knowledge Production: Methods for inventory, scientific verification, and use of local and traditional knowledge at different stages of the management cycle that can contribute to strengthening the implementation of ecosystem-based aquatic management.
  • Communication Studies: Design and evaluation of different communication interventions to engage and inform stakeholders at different levels in ecosystem-based management.

The challenges within each research focus area are large and multifaceted, and both intra- and interdisciplinary research is in demand. Transdisciplinary research that crosses boundaries between the research community and the rest of society is also welcomed. In all research areas, collaboration and co-creative initiatives between several researchers or research groups and between researchers, managers, and other stakeholders are important. Since many of the research areas concern species that move over large geographical areas, projects in collaboration with research actors in other countries are also desirable.

There are established forums within the agencies that can be used. For example, stakeholder forums for seals and cormorants (1), regional groups for ecosystem-based fisheries management of coastal areas, offshore waters, and inland waters (2) and collaborative structures for ecosystem-based marine, aquatic and fisheries management. Documents related to the research questions of the call are listed below.

Through the government assignment to the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management to implement fisheries management measures that correspond to a relocation of the trawl limit, test areas are being established that may be suitable for comparative studies.

The total budget for the call is approximately SEK 40 million. Researchers can apply for funding for research projects for up to three years (2025–2027). For several research questions, there may be a need for comparative studies and experimental approaches with field studies in different experimental areas that may need longer time and a larger budget than, for example, more theoretical studies and questionnaire studies. Therefore, both larger and longer projects, as well as smaller and shorter projects are welcome. As an indication of the magnitude of previously approved research projects within the Environmental Research Grant, three-year projects have received an average of approximately SEK 4 million (including overhead/indirect costs) in recent years.

The goal is to fund several projects within each of the three focus areas A-C and that at least a quarter of the budget will be allocated to each focus area. Priority will be given to applications of sufficient quality, to ensure that a balanced and coherent portfolio of projects of different scope and duration in all focus areas is granted.

Practical instructions

It is important that the relevance and practical benefit of the research for management within the remit of the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency and given to the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management, is clearly stated in the application by describing the project's connection to various objectives, directives, strategies, management plans, government assignments, etc.

Eligible applicants are researchers with a PhD at universities, colleges, research institutes or government agencies who conduct research as part of their assignment. The main applicant must be affiliated with an organisation with a Swedish organisation number. Applicants and co-applicants should have fulfilled their obligations in previous research projects funded by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency before the application deadline for the call. Otherwise, the application will be rejected for formal reasons. 

Researchers who are granted funding are expected to participate in annual research meetings of relevance for funders and in annual meetings for actors associated with this research call. Researchers are also expected to allocate resources for communication with the agencies and other actors and stakeholders. Researchers who are granted funding will report in accordance with the rules of the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency.

Important dates

Deadline for applications: September 12, 2024, 14:00 C.E.T.

Funding decision: Januari 2025

Start date of the project: March 2025

How to apply

The application should be written in English, as the applications are reviewed by international experts. The application is made electronically via the portal PRISMA. The application should state whether the research concerns focus area A, B, or C, or a combination of these. See the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency’s instructions for both applicants and reviewers. See also the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency’s policy for further utilization of data and information.

Contact information

Jenny Lindström, the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management
Phone: +4610-698 60 61

Emma Sernland, the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management
Phone: +4610-698 62 70

Karin Hansen, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency
Phone: +4610-698 13 28

Anders Lundvall, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency
Phone: +4610-698 12 27

Thomas Nilsson, Formas
Phone: +468-775 40 63

In English:

Directive on The conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora (

Directive on Establishing a framework for maritime spatial planning (

Marine Strategy Framework Directive (

In Swedish:

Strategi för svensk viltförvaltning (pdf)

Strategi för svenskt fiske och vattenbruk 2021–2026 (2021) (pdf.

Regeringsuppdraget Uppdrag att revidera den nationella förvaltningsplanen för storskarv samt öka kunskapen om storskarvens predation och födosök (

Regeringsuppdraget Sälpopulationernas tillväxt och utbredning samt effekterna av sälskador i fisket och sälarnas roll i ekosystemet (2024) (

Regeringsuppdraget Uppdrag att på prov genomföra fiskeriförvaltningsåtgärder som motsvarar en utflyttning av trålgränsen (

Åtagande inom Åtgärdsprogram för havsmiljön inom Nordsjön och Östersjön (

Nationell förvaltningsplan för storskarv (2023) (pdf)

Nationell förvaltningsplan för gråsäl (Halichoerus grypus) i Östersjön (2019) (pdf,

Nationell förvaltningsplan för knubbsäl (Phoca vitulina) i Kattegatt och Skagerrak (2012) (pdf,

Regleringsbrev för budgetåret 2024 avseende Havs- och vattenmyndigheten (

Förordningen om handel med sälprodukter 1007:2009 (

Redovisning av regeringsuppdrag Förvaltning av lax och öring (2015) (pdf,

Jaktförordningen 1987:905 (

Jaktlagen 1987:259 (

  1. The network is coordinated by the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management and consists of representatives from government agencies, county administrative boards and municipalities, as well as stakeholders from professional fishing, sport fishing, birds, hunting and nature conservation organisations.
  2. The panels are coordinated by the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management and consist of representatives from the county administrative boards, the Swedish Board of Agriculture and SLU Aqua. The groups are divided geographically, three for coastal areas, one for offshore areas and one for the great lakes.