State-and-Transition Models, Thresholds, and Rangeland Health: A Synthesis of Ecological Concepts and Perspectives Academic Article uri icon


  • This article synthesizes the ecological concepts and perspectives underpinning the development and application of state-and-transition models, thresholds, and rangeland health. Introduction of the multiple stable state concept paved the way for the development of these alternative evaluation procedures by hypothesizing that multiple stable plant communities can potentially occupy individual ecological sites. Vegetation evaluation procedures must be able to assess continuous and reversible as well as discontinuous and nonreversible vegetation dynamics because both patterns occur and neither pattern alone provides a complete assessment of vegetation dynamics on all rangelands. Continuous and reversible vegetation dynamics prevail within stable vegetation states, whereas discontinuous and nonreversible dynamics occur when thresholds are surpassed and one stable state replaces another. State-and-transition models can accommodate both categories of vegetation dynamics because they represent vegetation change along several axes, including fire regimes, weather variability, and management prescriptions, in addition to the succession-grazing axis associated with the traditional range model. Ecological thresholds have become a focal point of state-and-transition models because threshold identification is necessary for recognition of the various stable plant communities than can potentially occupy an ecological site. Thresholds are difficult to define and quantify because they represent a complex series of interacting components, rather than discrete boundaries in time and space. Threshold components can be categorized broadly as structural and functional based on compositional and spatial vegetation attributes, and on modification of ecosystem processes, respectively. State-and-transition models and rangeland health procedures have developed in parallel, rather than as components of an integrated framework, because the two procedures primarily rely on structural and functional thresholds, respectively. It may be prudent for rangeland professionals to consider the introduction of these alternative evaluation procedures as the beginning of a long-term developmental process, rather than as an end point marked by the adoption of an alternative set of standardized evaluation procedures.

published proceedings

  • Rangeland Ecology & Management

altmetric score

  • 6

author list (cited authors)

  • Briske, D. D., Fuhlendorf, S. D., & Smeins, F. E.

citation count

  • 0

complete list of authors

  • Briske, DD||Fuhlendorf, SD||Smeins, FE

publication date

  • January 2005