Ecological drought

An episodic deficit in water availability that drives ecosystems beyond thresholds of vulnerability, impacts ecosystem services, and triggers feedbacks in natural and/or human systems

What is ecoDIVA?

ecoDIVA is a process to inform planning by considering the ecological drought impacts that people care about most, the particular vulnerabilities that lead to socio-economic and ecological losses and how those specific vulnerabilities link to opportunities for implementing drought adaptation strategies.


Droughts of the twenty-first century are characterized by hotter temperatures, longer duration, and greater extent, and are increasingly exacerbated by human demands for water. This situation increases the vulnerability of ecosystems to drought, and when a drought drives changes within ecosystems, such as widespread forest death, there can be a ripple effect through human communities that depend on those ecosystems for critical goods and services.Despite the high costs to both nature and people, current drought research, management, and policy perspectives often fail to evaluate how drought affects ecosystems and the “natural capital” they provide to human communities. Existing drought definitions (agricultural drought, hydrological drought, and socioeconomic drought) see drought impacts through a human-centric lens and do not fully address the ecological dimensions of drought. We defined ecological drought to better prepare us for the rising risk of drought in the 21st century.

We developed the Ecological Drought Framework to support our definition of ecological drought, and present a new way of thinking about drought impacts. The framework shows how multiple characteristics, driven by both people and nature, can cause an ecological drought impact that affects services people rely upon. The framework helps clarify ecodrought vulnerability and gives decision makers a roadmap with several intervention points for reducing that vulnerability. Hover over one of the characterisics to learn more about it.

threshold HUMANS NATURE Natural resource management Ecological characteristics Ecological impacts Ecosystem service impacts Meteorological drought Anthropogenic climate change Human land & water use Landscape characteristics Human responses Ecological responses