The frequency and intensity of drought are expected to increase worldwide in the future. However, it is still unclear how ecosystems respond to drought. Ecosystem water use efficiency (WUE) is an essential ecological index used to measure the global carbon–water cycles, and is defined as the carbon absorbed per unit of water lost by the ecosystem. In this study, we applied gross primary productivity (GPP), evapotranspiration (ET), land surface temperature (LST), and normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) data to calculate the WUE and drought index (temperature vegetation dryness index (TVDI)), all of which were retrieved from moderate resolution imaging spectroradiometer (MODIS) data. We compared the mean WUE across different vegetation types, drought classifications, and countries. The temporal and spatial changes in WUE and drought were analyzed. The correlation between drought and WUE was calculated and compared across different vegetation types, and the differences in WUE between drought and post-drought periods were compared. The results showed that (1) ecosystems with a low (high) productivity had a high (low) WUE, and the mean ecosystem WUE of Central Asia showed vast differences across various drought levels, countries, and vegetation types. (2) The WUE in Central Asia exhibited an increasing trend from 2000 to 2014, and Central Asia experienced both drought (from 2000 to 2010) and post-drought (from 2011 to 2014) periods. (3) The WUE showed a negative correlation with drought during the drought period, and an obvious drought legacy effect was found, in which severe drought affected the ecosystem WUE over the following two years, while a positive correlation between WUE and drought was found in the post-drought period. (4) A significant increase in ecosystem WUE was found after drought, which revealed that arid ecosystems exhibit high resilience to drought stress. Our results can provide a specific reference for understanding how ecosystems will respond to climate change.
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