How We Work

Integrating Local and Expert Knowledge, Observational Studies, and Adaptive Management Experiments for STM Development

Learning from the Land researches both the dynamics of complex ecological systems, and the process of using a participatory approach to understand and describe those dynamics. We use an iterative process which consists of the following steps:

Participants discuss ecosystem dynamics at a STM workshop
1. First, in conjunction with our partners, the research team assembles or acquires a draft state-and-transition model (STM) from literature, existing data, remote sensing data, or other sources for priority ecological sites within an area.
2. We then host a modeling workshop (Knapp et al 2011) that involves landowners, ranchers, agency staff and others, to incorporate local, expert and context-specific knowledge and identify uncertainties.
3. Researchers target ecological sampling to address key uncertainties identified in the modeling workshop through observational studies and PhD and MS student research.
4. Based on the results of the observational study and local interests, we work with local ranchers and land management agencies to design a series of adaptive management experiments to test hypotheses.
5. We update the STM with continuing participation from stakeholders and data collection
(Kachergis et al. 2013).
Why Use a Participatory Approach?
A “participatory approach” means that researchers seek input from anyone who has expert or local knowledge in an area, such as landowners, ranchers, agency staff (e.g. NRCS, Forest Service, BLM), Extension, researchers, etc., to model ecosystem dynamics and identify where additional research could help address uncertainties.

A participatory approach 1) improves understanding of ecosystem dynamics by accessing knowledge sources that are otherwise unavailable, 2) increases relevance of STMs to local end-users because of their participation in the process, and 3) broadens their applicability through integration of many perspectives. Past work in Northwestern Colorado (Knapp et al. 2009; Knapp et al. 2010; Knapp et al. 2011; Kachergis et al. 2013) identified these potential benefits and informs our participatory approach.


Knapp, C. N., and M. E. Fernandez-Gimenez. 2009. Understanding change: integrating rancher knowledge into state-and-transition models. Rangeland Ecology and Management 62:510-521.

Knapp, C. N., M. E. Fernandez-Gimenez, and E. Kachergis. 2010. The Role of Local Knowledge in State-and-Transition Model Development. Rangelands 32:31-36.

Knapp, C. N., M. E. Fernandez-Gimenez, E. Kachergis, and A. Rudeen. 2011. Using participatory workshops to integrate state-and-transition models created with local knowledge and ecological data. Rangeland Ecology and Management 64:158-170.

Kachergis, E., C. N. Knapp, M. E. Fernandez-Gimenez, J. G. Pritchett, J. Parsons, J. Ritten, W. Hibbs, and R. Roath.  2013.  Tools for resilience management:  Multi-disciplinary development of state-and-transition models for northwest Colorado.  Ecology and Society  18(4): 39.