We present an ecological framework for considering ecosystem degradation and restoration, particularly in rangelands and arid environments. The framework is a synthesis of three conceptual models previously developed by several rangeland and restoration ecologists. We focus first on distinctions and connections between structural and functional components of rangeland ecosystems and then on distinctions and connections between biotic and abiotic components of the ecosystem. We next show that the structural/functional and biotic/abiotic distinctions can be integrated with a stepwise, positive feedback model of degradation to help explain degradation processes and restoration approaches. Finally, we relate those concepts to a threshold model of rangeland degradation. By establishing the conceptual links among these different models, this synthesis provides a broader, more integrated framework for thinking about the dynamics involved in rangeland degradation and restoration. We conclude by presenting some approaches to restoration that are motivated by the suite of concepts that are brought together in the framework.