The goal of this synthesis is to initiate development of a unified framework for threshold assessment that is able to link ecological theory and processes with management knowledge and application. Specific objectives include the investigation of threshold mechanisms, elaboration of threshold components, introduction of threshold categories and trajectories, and presentation of an operational definition of ecological thresholds. A greater understanding of ecological thresholds is essential because they have become a focal point within the state-and-transition framework and their occurrence has critical consequences for land management. Threshold occurrence may be best interpreted as a switch from the dominance of negative feedbacks that maintain ecosystem resilience to the dominance of positive feedbacks that degrade resilience and promote the development of post-threshold states on individual ecological sites. Threshold categories have been identified to serve as ecological benchmarks to describe the extent of threshold progression and increase insight into feedback mechanisms that determine threshold reversibility. Threshold trajectories describe the developmental pathway that post-threshold states may follow once a threshold has been exceeded. These trajectories may produce a continuum of potential post-threshold states, but the majority of them may be organized into four broad states. This framework lends itself to management application by providing an operational definition of thresholds that is based on a probabilistic interpretation. Probabilities associated with 1) the occurrence of triggers that initiate threshold progression, 2) the trajectory of post-threshold states, and 3) threshold reversibility will provide an operational procedure for threshold assessment and application. If thresholds are to play a central role in rangeland ecology and management, then the rangeland profession must accept responsibility for their conceptual development, ecological validity, and managerial effectiveness.
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Vol. 59 • No. 3