A climate envelope approach was used to model the distributions of the intertidal gastropod Patella rustica, to test the robustness of forecast responses to climate change. The model incorporated variables that were likely to determine the abundance and the northern range limit of this species in the NE Atlantic. The model was built using classification and regression tree analysis (CART) trained with historical distribution data from the mid 1950s and a set of corresponding climatic and oceanographic variables. Results indicated air and sea temperature, in particular during the reproductive and settlement periods, as the main determinants of the Atlantic distribution of P. rustica. The model was subsequently fed with contemporary climatic data and its output was compared with the current distribution and abundance of P. rustica, assessed during a 2002–2003 survey. The model correctly hindcasted the recent collapse of a distributional gap in northern Portugal, as well as an increase in abundance at locations within its range. The predicted northward expansion of the northern range limit did not occur because the absence of the species was confirmed in a survey encompassing the whole Atlantic French coast up to Brest. Stretches of unsuitable habitat too long to be overcome by dispersal are the likely mechanism controlling the northern limit of the distribution of this intertidal species.