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Indicators and thresholds for desertification, soil quality, and remediation

Final Report Summary - INDEX (Indicators and thresholds for desertification, soil quality, and remediation)

The INDEX project was initiated in response to the Global Change and Ecosystems (GCE) thematic sub-priority of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) of the European Commission (EC). It was designed to fulfill the EC's request for a Specific Targeted Research Project (STREP) concerning the research on mechanisms of desertification and soil quantity.

Land degradation, including desertification, is an international matter of paramount importance; therefore, related indicators have been designed which monitor it. Many indicators identified:
- plant communities;
- soil loss;
- salinity

However, indicators tend to monitor the status quo over large periods of time and they are more suitable for crisis assessment than for risk prevention. Furthermore, they insufficiently correspond to the sensitive monitoring of the success of remediation efforts. Therefore, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) as well as other organisations have underlined the continuously growing need for indicator design which would lie on land degradation mechanisms which mechanisms are known and have constituted the object of many European Union (EU) studies. In view of global change conditions, such indicators are especially needed. In many cases, changes will be slow and subtle. An early warning system is required to indicate the need for countermeasures while they are still economical.

The prime goal of INDEX was to apply this knowledge in order to design modern, rapid, sensitive, universal as well as multivariate indicators with the help of which the dynamic state of land degradation as well as its remediation could be assessed. Indicators for soil quality and desertification could be applied to different spatial and temporal scales.

The project laid emphasis on investigating the possibility of designing indicators which would reflect ecological quality at the soil level rather than at the more traditional field and catchment levels.

In order to achieve this goal, potential indicators (parameters) were investigated which fell into the following broad categories:
- microbiology, including molecular biology and genetic diversity;
- characteristics of the dynamic humus-pool and humus-enzymes, and;
- soil physics, including rheology.

The parameters were determined by samples which had been obtained during the spring, summer and fall of 2004. In case any difficulties in determining the parameters would arise, the parameters would be determined by the spring samples only. A holistic approach was adopted and non-traditional parameters were also investigated for their suitability as indicators. The temporal stability of the parameters was determined by samples which had been obtained during the spring of 2005. Parameters were subsequently confirmed on verification sites.

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