SEARCH

SEARCH BY CITATION

Accurate predictions of the potential distribution of range-shifting species are required for effective management of invasive species, and for assessments of the impact of climate change on native species. Range-shifting species pose a challenge for traditional correlative approaches to range prediction, often requiring the extrapolation of complex statistical associations into novel environmental space. Here we take an alternative approach that does not use species occurrence data, but instead captures the fundamental niche of a species by mechanistically linking key organismal traits with spatial data using biophysical models. We demonstrate this approach with a major invasive species, the cane toad Bufo marinus in Australia, assessing the direct climatic constraints on its ability to move, survive, and reproduce. We show that the current range can be explained by thermal constraints on the locomotor potential of the adult stage together with limitations on the availability of water for the larval stage. Our analysis provides a framework for biologically grounded predictions of the potential for cane toads to expand their range under current and future climate scenarios. More generally, by quantifying spatial variation in physiological constraints on an organism, trait-based approaches can be used to investigate the range-limits of any species. Assessments of spatial variation in the physiological constraints on an organism may also provide a mechanistic basis for forecasting the rate of range expansion and for understanding a species’ potential to evolve at range-edges. Mechanistic approaches thus have broad application to process-based ecological and evolutionary models of range-shift.