State-and-transition models (STMs) are being developed for many areas in the United States and represent an important tool for assessing and managing public and private rangelands. Substantial resources have been invested in model development, yet minimal efforts have been made to evaluate the utility of STMs for rangeland assessment and management. We interviewed 47 rangeland professionals, equally divided between managers and researchers, in four ecoregions to determine their perceptions of the purpose, development, and strengths and weaknesses of STMs to assess the status of the STM framework. Our analysis identified three primary perspectives regarding the purpose of STMs: a decision-making tool for land managers, a means to represent the complex dynamics of rangeland ecosystems, and an effective communication tool. These diverse views of STM purposes were associated with differing perspectives concerning model development that identified five major issues in need of further development and refinement: 1) the relative importance of management practices and ecological processes in driving transitions, 2) the criteria used to define thresholds, 3) the appropriate level of model complexity, 4) the respective roles of expert knowledge and ecological data in model development, and 5) processes for model review and revision. We recommend greater dialogue among researchers and managers to further clarify STM terminology and develop standard protocols for model development and validation. Mechanisms are critically needed to assure peer review and revision of existing models so that STMs are continually updated to reflect current understanding of rangeland dynamics.
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