Ecology Letters (2011) 14: 677–689
Although some organisms have moved to higher elevations and latitudes in response to recent climate change, there is little consensus regarding the capacity of different species to track rapid climate change via range shifts. Understanding species’ abilities to shift ranges has important implications for assessing extinction risk and predicting future community structure. At an expanding front, colonization rates are determined jointly by rates of reproduction and dispersal. In addition, establishment of viable populations requires that individuals find suitable resources in novel habitats. Thus, species with greater dispersal ability, reproductive rate and ecological generalization should be more likely to expand into new regions under climate change. Here, we assess current evidence for the relationship between leading-edge range shifts and species’ traits. We found expected relationships for several datasets, including diet breadth in North American Passeriformes and egg-laying habitat in British Odonata. However, models generally had low explanatory power. Thus, even statistically and biologically meaningful relationships are unlikely to be of predictive utility for conservation and management. Trait-based range shift forecasts face several challenges, including quantifying relevant natural history variation across large numbers of species and coupling these data with extrinsic factors such as habitat fragmentation and availability.