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Tools for Resilience Management: Multidisciplinary Development of State-and-Transition Models for Northwest Colorado

Emily J. Kachergis, Bureau of Land Management, Denver, Colorado
Corrine N. Knapp, Alaska Center for Climate and Policy
Maria E. Fernandez-Gimenez, Department of Forest and Rangeland Stewardship, Colorado State University
John P. Ritten, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, University of Wyoming
James G. Pritchett, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, Colorado State University
Jay Parsons, Western Center for Integrated Resource Management, Colorado State University
Willow Hibbs, Wyoming Game and Fish Department and USDA-NRCS
Roy Roath, Department of Forest and Rangeland Stewardship, Colorado State University


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Building models is an important way of integrating knowledge. Testing and updating models of social-ecological systems can inform management decisions and, ultimately, improve resilience. We report on the outcomes of a six-year, multidisciplinary model development process in the sagebrush steppe, USA. We focused on creating state-and-transition models (STMs), conceptual models of ecosystem change that represent nonlinear dynamics and are being adopted worldwide as tools for managing ecosystems. STM development occurred in four steps with four distinct sets of models: (1) local knowledge elicitation using semistructured interviews; (2) ecological data collection using an observational study; (3) model integration using participatory workshops; and (4) model simplification upon review of the literature by a multidisciplinary team. We found that different knowledge types are ultimately complementary. Many of the benefits of the STM-building process flowed from the knowledge integration steps, including improved communication, identification of uncertainties, and production of more broadly credible STMs that can be applied in diverse situations. The STM development process also generated hypotheses about sagebrush steppe dynamics that could be tested by future adaptive management and research. We conclude that multidisciplinary development of STMs has great potential for producing credible, useful tools for managing resilience of social-ecological systems. Based on this experience, we outline a streamlined, participatory STM development process that integrates multiple types of knowledge and incorporates adaptive management.

Key words

adaptive management; ecology; ecosystem dynamics; knowledge integration; participatory research; rangeland; sagebrush steppe

Copyright © 2013 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087