Aim Bioclimatic envelope models are often used to make projections of species’ potential responses to climate change. It can be hypothesized that species with different kinds of distributions in environmental niche and geographical space may respond differently to changes in climate. Here, we compare projections of shifts in species ranges with simple descriptors of species niche (position and breadth) and geographical (range size) distributions.
Methods The future distribution for 1200 European plant species were predicted by niche-based models using seven climate variables known to have an important role in limiting plant species distributions. Ecological niche properties were estimated using a multivariate analysis. Species range changes were then related to species niche properties using generalized linear models.
Results Generally, percentage of remaining suitable habitat in the future increased linearly with niche position and breadth. Increases in potential suitable habitat were associated with greater range size, and had a hump-shaped relationship with niche position on temperature gradient. By relating species chorotypes to percentage of remaining or gained habitat, we highlighted biogeographical patterns of species sensitivity to climate change. These were clearly related to the degree of exposure according to regional patterns of projected climate change.
Main conclusion This study highlights general patterns about the relationships between sensitivity of species to climate change and their ecological properties. There is a strong convergence between simple inferences based on ecological characteristics of species and projections by bioclimatic ‘envelope’ models, confirming macroecological assumptions about species sensitivity based on niche properties. These patterns appear to be most strongly driven by the exposure of species to climate change, with additional effects of species niche characteristics. We conclude that simple species niche properties are powerful indicators of species’ sensitivity to climate change.