Defining ecological drought for the 21st century

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This paper defines the term ecological drought as 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. We support this definition with a novel, integrated framework for ecological drought that is organized along two dimensions—the components of vulnerability (exposure + sensitivity/adaptive capacity) and a continuum from human to natural factors. The purpose of this framework is to help guide drought researchers and decision-makers to understand 1) the roles that both people and nature play as drivers of ecosystem vulnerability, 2) that ecological drought’s impacts are transferred to human communities via ecosystem services, and 3) these ecological and ecosystem service impacts will feed back to both natural and human systems. In addition, our framework will help identify important trade-offs and strategies for reducing the ecological drought risks facing both human and natural systems in the 21st century.