Assessing how environmental changes affect the distribution and dynamics of vegetation and animal populations is becoming increasingly important for terrestrial ecologists to enable better predictions of the effects of global warming, biodiversity reduction or habitat degradation. The ability to predict ecological responses has often been hampered by our rather limited understanding of trophic interactions. Indeed, it has proven difficult to discern direct and indirect effects of environmental change on animal populations owing to limited information about vegetation at large temporal and spatial scales. The rapidly increasing use of the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) in ecological studies has recently changed this situation. Here, we review the use of the NDVI in recent ecological studies and outline its possible key role in future research of environmental change in an ecosystem context.