Alien grass invasions in arid and semi-arid ecosystems are resulting in grass–fire cycles and ecosystem-level transformations that severely diminish ecosystem services. Our capacity to address the rapid and complex changes occurring in these ecosystems can be enhanced by developing an understanding of the environmental factors and ecosystem attributes that determine resilience of native ecosystems to stress and disturbance, and resistance to invasion. Cold desert shrublands occur over strong environmental gradients and exhibit significant differences in resilience and resistance. They provide an excellent opportunity to increase our understanding of these concepts. Herein, we examine a series of linked questions about (a) ecosystem attributes that determine resilience and resistance along environmental gradients, (b) effects of disturbances like livestock grazing and altered fire regimes and of stressors like rapid climate change, rising CO2, and N deposition on resilience and resistance, and (c) interacting effects of resilience and resistance on ecosystems with different environmental conditions. We conclude by providing strategies for the use of resilience and resistance concepts in a management context. At ecological site scales, state and transition models are used to illustrate how differences in resilience and resistance influence potential alternative vegetation states, transitions among states, and thresholds. At landscape scales management strategies based on resilience and resistance—protection, prevention, restoration, and monitoring and adaptive management—are used to determine priority management areas and appropriate actions.