• Range condition assessment and the concept of thresholds: A viewpoint

      Friedel, M. H. (Society for Range Management, 1991-09-01)
      Dissatisfaction persists with current approaches to range condition and trend assessment. Sometimes assessed condition does not truly represent the past or the potential of range. One of the likely causes is a failure to re-examine and change if necessary the theoretical basis of assessment, in line with developing understanding of ecological processes. The concept of thresholds of environmental change appears to provide a reasonable alternative in some circumstances to the concepts of gradual retrogression and secondary succession which are currently accepted. I suggest that environmental change can be discontinuous, with thresholds between alternative states. Once it threshold is crossed to a more degraded state, the former state cannot be attained without significant management effort, such as prescribed burning, ploughing, or herbicide application, rather than simple grazing control. Examination of data from extensive monitoring programs and from a study of grazing impact, as well as more general sources of information, indicates that thresholds of change may be identifiable in arid rangelands. A practical means of monitoring proximity to thresholds is available and, with the aid of multivariate analysis, the effects of spatial variability and season can be separated from those of management. The potential of this approach deserves investigation in a wider variety of environments.