| Project objectives:
Land degradation (including desertification) is a paramount international problem, and indicators have been developed to follow it. Many are based on (1)
plant communities, or (2) soil loss, or (3) salinity. They tend to monitor the status quo over large time periods and are more suitable for crisis assessment
than for risk prevention. They are also poorly suited for the sensitive monitoring of the success of remediation efforts. Last year the UN Convention to Combat
Desertification (UNCCD) and other organisations have emphasised the continuing need for indicators. The mechanisms of land degradation are well known and
have been the object of many EU studies. The prime goal of INDEX is to apply this knowledge to develop modern, rapid, sensitive, universal, multivariate indicators
with which the dynamic state of land degradation as well as its remediation can be assessed. They will be based on: (1) microbiology including molecular biology
and genetic diversity, (2) characteristics of the dynamic humus pool and humo-enzymes, and (3) soil physics including rheology. These indicators of desertification
mechanisms will be developed on fields in various stages of degradation and remediation and verified on a pan European basis on sites selected with stakeholders.
Results will be extrapolated to thresholds to indicate when remediation is economically unfeasible. INDEX is innovative, since it (1) is based on mechanisms,
(2) is holistic, and (3) introduces novel parameters. In view of Global Change such indicators are especially needed. Changes will often be slow and subtle.
An early warning system is neededt o indicate the need for countermeasures, while they are still economical. INDEX will rely on previously supported Commission
projects and will disseminate its results to subsequent projects. It will attempt to utilise small and medium enterprises (SMEs) as links to non-scientific