An evaluation framework for quantifying vegetation loss and recovery in response to meteorological drought based on SPEI and NDVI

Chuanhao Wu, Lulu Zhong, Pat J.F. Yeh, Zhengjie Gong, Wenhan Lv, Bei Chen, Jun Zhou, Jiayun Li, Saisai Wang

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3 Citations (Scopus)


Drought affects vegetation growth to a large extent. Understanding the dynamic changes of vegetation during drought is of great significance for agricultural and ecological management and climate change adaptation. The relations between vegetation and drought have been widely investigated, but how vegetation loss and restoration in response to drought remains unclear. Using the standardized precipitation evapotranspiration index (SPEI) and the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) data, this study developed an evaluation framework for exploring the responses of vegetation loss and recovery to meteorological drought, and applied it to the humid subtropical Pearl River basin (PRB) in southern China for estimating the loss and recovery of three vegetation types (forest, grassland, cropland) during drought using the observed NDVI changes. Results indicate that vegetation is more sensitive to drought in high-elevation areas (lag time < 3 months) than that in low-elevation areas (lag time > 8 months). Vegetation loss (especially in cropland) is found to be more sensitive to drought duration than drought severity and peak. No obvious linear relationship between drought intensity and the extent of vegetation loss is found. Regardless of the intensity, drought can cause the largest probability of mild loss of vegetation, followed by moderate loss, and the least probability of severe loss. Large spatial variability in the probability of vegetation loss and recovery time is found over the study domain, with a higher probability (up to 50 %) of drought-induced vegetation loss and a longer recovery time (>7 months) mostly in the high-elevation areas. Further analysis suggests that forest shows higher but cropland shows lower drought resistance than other vegetation types, and grassland requires a shorter recovery time (4.2-month) after loss than forest (5.1-month) and cropland (4.8-month).

Original languageEnglish
Article number167632
Number of pages14
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2024


  • Drought
  • NDVI
  • PRB
  • SPEI
  • Vegetation loss
  • Vegetation recovery

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