Many ecosystems are influenced by disturbances that create specific successional states and habitat structures that species need to persist. Estimating transition probabilities between habitat states and modeling the factors that influence such transitions have many applications for investigating and managing disturbance-prone ecosystems. We identify the correspondence between multistate capture-recapture models and Markov models of habitat dynamics. We exploit this correspondence by fitting and comparing competing models of different ecological covariates affecting habitat transition probabilities in Florida scrub and flatwoods, a habitat important to many unique plants and animals. We subdivided a large scrub and flatwoods ecosystem along central Florida's Atlantic coast into 10-ha grid cells, which approximated average territory size of the threatened Florida Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens), a management indicator species. We used 1.0-m resolution aerial imagery for 1994, 1999, and 2004 to classify grid cells into four habitat quality states that were directly related to Florida Scrub-Jay source-sink dynamics and management decision making. Results showed that static site features related to fire propagation (vegetation type, edges) and temporally varying disturbances (fires, mechanical cutting) best explained transition probabilities. Results indicated that much of the scrub and flatwoods ecosystem was resistant to moving from a degraded state to a desired state without mechanical cutting, an expensive restoration tool. We used habitat models parameterized with the estimated transition probabilities to investigate the consequences of alternative management scenarios on future habitat dynamics. We recommend this multistate modeling approach as being broadly applicable for studying ecosystem, land cover, or habitat dynamics. The approach provides maximum-likelihood estimates of transition parameters, including precision measures, and can be used to assess evidence among competing ecological models that describe system dynamics. ?? 2010 by the Ecological Society of America.