Letters to Nature

Nature 391, 783-786 (19 February 1998) | doi:10.1038/35842; Received 9 April 1997; Accepted 27 October 1997

Making mistakes when predicting shifts in species range in response to global warming

Andrew J. Davis1, Linda S. Jenkinson1, John H. Lawton2, Bryan Shorrocks1 & Simon Wood2,3

  1. Ecology and Evolution Group, Biology Department, The University, Leeds, Yorkshire, LS2 9JT, UK
  2. NERC Centre for Population Biology, Imperial College Silwood Park, Ascot, Berkshire, SL5 7PY, UK
  3. Present address: Mathematical Institute, University of St Andrews, North Haugh, St Andrews, Fife, KY16 9SS, UK.

Correspondence to: Andrew J. Davis1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to A.J.D. (e-mail: Email: a.j.davis@leeds.ac.uk).

Many attempts to predict the biotic responses to climate change rely on the |[lsquo]|climate envelope|[rsquo]| approach1, 2, 3, in which the current distribution of a species is mapped in climate-space and then, if the position of that climate-space changes, the distribution of the species is predicted to shift accordingly4, 5, 6. The flaw in this approach is that distributions of species also reflect the influence of interactions with other species7, 8, 9, 10, so predictions based on climate envelopes may be very misleading if the interactions between species are altered by climate change11. An additional problem is that current distributions may be the result of sources and sinks12, in which species appear to thrive in places where they really persist only because individuals disperse into them from elsewhere13,14. Here we use microcosm experiments on simple but realistic assemblages to show how misleading the climate envelope approach can be. We show that dispersal and interactions, which are important elements of population dynamics15, must be included in predictions of biotic responses to climate change.