Vegetation condition is a key aspect of degradation in grasslands, wood/forest lands and croplands. Below are the eight key vegetative indicators of degradation
Decline in vegetation cover (plant and litter): reduced cover means increased exposure of the land to sun, wind, rain and wind and water erosion;. Vegetation cover can be divided into basal cover (herbaceous), shrub cover and canopy cover (trees) for a more in depth analysis.
Changes in vegetation structure and species composition which determines cover, shade, use and productivity. Change in dominant species is a key indicator of degradation and the share of beneficial / economically valuable species to harmful / unpalatable / invasive species influences productivity and livelihoods.
Decline in species and habitat diversity: reduction or loss of biodiversity is associated with loss of useful products and functions (habitat for wildlife, pollinators) and reduced resilience (e.g. to climate change and to pests and diseases).
Reduced vegetation health and productivity which includes the vegetation quality or extent of damage of natural and planted species (e.g. to leaves, buds, roots, cambium, branches, trunk) by fire, pests, over-exploitation, etc., and reduced growth/ regeneration capacity of forest, shrubs, trees and herbaceous species (few young plants, many old/ senescent plants).
Ground cover: as with pasture and forest land soil, ground cover by live vegetation or crop residues is a key factor in protecting the soil from raindrop impact, soil erosion, high temperatures and excess evaporation.
Permanence of the crops or period of cover: determines exposure of bare soil and erosion risk.
Cropping system diversity: diverse crop systems provide resilience to pests, diseases, capacity to restore and make better use of nutrients, organic matter and reduce erosion risk (e.g. a multi-storey agroforestry system will intercept and make better use of rainwater and the deep soil profile and protect the ground from erosion more than a cereal field.
Use of natural vegetation for restoring soil protection and organic matter content, also other uses (e.g. wood and non wood forest products etc).