Natural and anthropogenic processes are causing extensive and rapid ecological, social, and economic changes in arid and semiarid ecosystems worldwide. Nowhere are these changes more evident than in the Great Basin of the western United States, a region of 400,000 km2 that largely is managed by federal agencies. Major drivers of ecosystems and human demographics of the Great Basin include human population growth, grazing by domestic livestock, extraction of minerals, development and production of energy, changes in fire and other disturbance regimes, and invasion of non-native annual plants. Exploration of alternative futures may increase the ability of management and policy to maximize the system's resistance and resilience to changes in climate, disturbance regimes, and anthropogenic perturbations. This special section examines the issues facing the Great Basin and then provides examples of approaches to predicting changes in land cover and avifaunal distributions under different management scenarios. Future sustainability of the Great Basin's natural and human systems requires strong, collaborative partnerships among research and management organizations that are capable of obtaining public support and financial resources and developing effective policies and institutional mechanisms.