Threshold Concepts and Their Use in Rangeland Management and Restoration: The Good, the Bad, and the Insidious


  • Brandon T. Bestelmeyer

    Corresponding author
    1. USDA-ARS Jornada Experimental Range and Jornada Basin LTER, MSC
      JER Box 30003, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM 88003, U.S.A.
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Ecological thresholds describe abrupt changes in ecological properties in time or space. In rangeland management, thresholds reflect changes in vegetation and soils that are expensive or impossible to reverse. The threshold concept has catalyzed important advances in rangeland management thinking, but it has also introduced two classes of drawbacks. First, the ambiguity of the term “threshold” and the desire for simplicity in its application has led to an overemphasis on classification thresholds, such as vegetation cover values. Uncritical use of classification thresholds may lead to the abandonment of management efforts in land areas that would otherwise benefit from intervention. Second, it is possible that the invocation of thresholds and irreversible degradation may eventually result in the wholesale conversion of land areas that would have been recoverable or served important societal functions, such as biodiversity maintenance, that are not reflected in threshold definitions. I conclude with a recommendation to clarify the nature of thresholds by defining the relationships among pattern, process, and degradation and distinguishing preventive thresholds from restoration thresholds. We must also broaden the attributes used to define states and thresholds.