Aim Most predictions of species ranges are based on correlating current species localities to environmental conditions. These correlative models do not explicitly include a species' biology. In contrast, some mechanistic models link traits to energetics and population dynamics to predict species distributions. These models enable one to ask whether considering a species' biology is important for predicting its range. I implement mechanistic models to investigate how a species' morphology, physiology and life history influence its range.
Location North America.
Methods I compare the mechanistic model predictions with those of correlative models for eight species of North American lizards in both current environments and following a uniform 3 °C temperature warming. I then examine the implications of superimposing habitat and elevation requirements on constraints associated with environmental tolerances.
Results In the mechanistic model, species with a narrower thermal range for activity are both predicted and observed to have more restricted distributions. Incorporating constraints on habitat and elevation further restricts species distributions beyond areas that are thermally suitable. While correlative models generally outperform mechanistic models at predicting current distributions, the performance of mechanistic models improves when incorporating additional factors. In response to a 3 °C temperature warming, the northward range shifts predicted by the mechanistic model vary between species according to trait differences and are of a greater extent than those predicted by correlative models.
Main conclusions These findings highlight the importance of species traits for understanding the dynamics of species ranges in changing environments. The analysis demonstrates that mechanistic models may provide an important complement to correlative models for predicting range dynamics, which may underpredict climate-induced range shifts.