Definitions of key terms and words used used by the CASCADE project and in this website.

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early warning signals

Characteristics of the system that change in a predictable way as a system approaches a critical point (see Scheffer 2009 for a review of such characteristics.)

ecological indicator

A characteristic of an ecosystem that is related to, or derived from, a measure of biotic or abiotic variable, that can provide quantitative information on ecological structure and function. An indicator can contribute to a measure of integrity and sustainability.

ecological restoration

The process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed.

ecological succession

The gradual and orderly process of change in an ecosystem brought about by the progressive replacement of one community by another until a stable climax is established.

ecological threshold

Limit or amount of external pressure/change at which there is an abrupt change in an ecosystem property, or phenomenon. At this point small changes in one or more external conditions produce large and persistent responses in an ecosystem. A threshold is not necessarily associated with a tipping point, and thresholds can be passed without feedback or hysteresis.


"An open ecological system that includes all the organisms that function together in a given area (ranging in scale from very small to the whole globe) interacting with the physical environment so that a flow of energy leads to clearly defined biotic structures and cycling of materials between living and non-living parts." (Odum, 1983)

ecosystem approach

An integrated approach to the study of human-environment interactions; recognizes that people are an integral part of their ecosystems and the mutual dependence of one’s upon the other’s welfare (UNEP/CBD/COP5 2000).

ecosystem services

The benefits people obtain from ecosystems. These include provisioning services such as food and water; regulating services such as flood and disease control; cultural services such as spiritual, recreational, and cultural benefits; and supporting services, such as nutrient cycling, that maintain the conditions for life on Earth (ΜΕΑ 2005).

environmentally sensitive area

1. (DESERTLINKS) Areas distinguished or mapped by using certain key indicators for assessing the land capability to withstand further degradation, or the land suitability for supporting specific types of land use (Kosmas et al., 1999).

2. (MedAction) areas in which EU subsidies are paid to encourage landowners to follow land uses sympathetic to an environmental or landscape objective.


The ease with which natural materials break down when they are attacked by agents of denudation (whose capacity is called erosivity, especially for rainfall events of short duration and high intensity). Erodibility is dependent on susceptibility to removal and transportation, and the term is often used in the context of potential of a soil or sediment to gullying or rill formation (Whittow, 1984).


The loss of water from a given area and during a specified period of time, due to evaporation from the soil surface and to transpiration from plants. In arid conditions most of the precipitation returns to the atmosphere after some time, and does not participate in the deep soil water recharge. Potential evaporation (or evapotranspiration) is the amount of evapo-transpiration that would occur from a certain area if there were no restriction on water availability.

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