Groundwater in arid/semiarid regions plays crucial roles in providing drinking water supply, supporting irrigated agriculture, and sustaining important native terrestrial ecosystems. Groundwater depth controls water availability to vegetation and is essential for conserving groundwater-dependent terrestrial ecosystems. Environmental groundwater depth can be defined as a mean depth or a range of depths, satisfying the growth of natural vegetation that is not under stress, either due to lack of water or anoxia or soil salinization. Five methodologies have been reported to estimate environmental groundwater depth: the direct ones rely on response functions that relate vegetation condition, e.g., physiological parameters, appearance frequency, community structure, and remotely sensed physical indexes, to changes in groundwater depth; the indirect one estimates environmental groundwater depth based on the threshold of soil moisture content. To fill a knowledge gap of unique recognized methodology, a conceptual framework was proposed, which involves initial estimation (data collection, response assessment, and estimation) and feedback adjustment (implementation and modification). A key component of the framework is to quantify the linkage between ecological conditions and geohydrological features. This review may provide references for groundwater resources management, ecological conservation, and sustainable development in arid/semiarid regions.
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