Our understanding of how climate influences species distributions and our ability to assess the risk of introduced species depend on the assumption that species’ climatic niches remain stable across space and time. While niche shifts have been detected in individual invasive species, one assessment of ~50 plants in Europe and North America concluded that niche shifts were rare, while another concluded the opposite. These contradictory findings, limited in species number and geographic scope, leave open a need to understand how often introduced species experience niche shifts and whether niche shifts can be predicted. We found evidence of climatic niche shifts in 65–100% of 815 terrestrial plant species introduced across five continents, depending on how niche shifts were measured. Individual species responses were idiosyncratic, but we generally saw that niche shifts reflected changes in climate availability at the continent scale and were largest in long-lived and cultivated species. Smaller intercontinental niche shifts occurred within species’ native ranges. Overall, the climatic niches of terrestrial plant species were not conserved as they crossed continents. These results have major consequences for applying environmental niche models to assess the risk of invasive species and for predicting species responses to climate change. Our findings challenge the tenet that species’ niches are conserved aspects of their ecology.
This is a preview of subscription content
Subscribe to Nature+
Get immediate online access to the entire Nature family of 50+ journals
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $9.92 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Silvertown, J. Plant coexistence and the niche. Trends Ecol. Evol. 19, 605–611 (2004).
Colwell, R. K. & Rangel, T. F. Hutchinson’s duality: the once and future niche. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 106, 19651–19658 (2009).
Guisan, A., Petitpierre, B., Broennimann, O., Daehler, C. & Kueffer, C. Unifying niche shift studies: insights from biological invasions. Trends Ecol. Evol. 29, 260–269 (2014).
Pearman, P. B., Guisan, A., Broennimann, O. & Randin, C. F. Niche dynamics in space and time. Trends Ecol. Evol. 23, 149–158 (2008).
Koop, A. L., Fowler, L., Newton, L. P. & Caton, B. P. Development and validation of a weed screening tool for the United States. Biol. Invasions 14, 273–294 (2012).
Andersen, M. C., Adams, H., Hope, B. & Powell, M. Risk assessment for invasive species. Risk Anal. 24, 787–793 (2004).
Veloz, S. D. et al. No-analog climates and shifting realized niches during the late quaternary: implications for 21st-century predictions by species distribution models. Glob. Change Biol. 18, 1698–1713 (2012).
Broennimann, O. et al. Evidence of climatic niche shift during biological invasion. Ecol. Lett. 10, 701–709 (2007).
Rodder, D. & Lotters, S. Niche shift versus niche conservatism? Climatic characteristics of the native and invasive ranges of the Mediterranean house gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus). Glob. Ecol. Biogeogr. 18, 674–687 (2009).
Fitzpatrick, M. C., Weltzin, J. F., Sanders, N. J. & Dunn, R. R. The biogeography of prediction error: why does the introduced range of the fire ant over-predict its native range? Glob. Ecol. Biogeogr. 16, 24–33 (2007).
Medley, K. A. Niche shifts during the global invasion of the Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus Skuse (Culicidae), revealed by reciprocal distribution models. Glob. Ecol. Biogeogr. 19, 122–133 (2010).
Gallagher, R. V., Beaumont, L. J., Hughes, L. & Leishman, M. R. Evidence for climatic niche and biome shifts between native and novel ranges in plant species introduced to Australia. J. Ecol. 98, 790–799 (2010).
Early, R. & Sax, D. F. Climatic niche shifts between species’ native and naturalized ranges raise concern for ecological forecasts during invasions and climate change. Glob. Ecol. Biogeogr. 23, 1356–1365 (2014).
Liu, X. et al. Realized climatic niches are conserved along maximum temperatures among herpetofaunal invaders. J. Biogeogr. 44, 111–121 (2017).
Strubbe, D., Broennimann, O., Chiron, F. & Matthysen, E. Niche conservatism in non-native birds in Europe: niche unfilling rather than niche expansion. Glob. Ecol. Biogeogr. 22, 962–970 (2013).
Petitpierre, B. et al. Climatic niche shifts are rare among terrestrial plant invaders. Science 335, 1344–1348 (2012).
Pimentel, D. et al. Economic and environmental threats of alien plant, animal, and microbe invasions. Agric. Ecosyst. Environ. 84, 1–20 (2001).
Perrings, C. et al. Biological invasion risks and the public good: an economic perspective. Ecol. Soc. 6, 1 (2002).
Wiens, J. J. et al. Niche conservatism as an emerging principle in ecology and conservation biology. Ecol. Lett. 13, 1310–1324 (2010).
Keane, R. M. & Crawley, M. J. Exotic plant invasions and the enemy release hypothesis. Trends Ecol. Evol. 17, 164–170 (2002).
Shea, K. & Chesson, P. Community ecology theory as a framework for biological invasions. Trends Ecol. Evol. 17, 170–176 (2002).
Webber, B. L., Le Maitre, D. C. & Kriticos, D. J. Comment on “Climatic niche terrestrial plant invaders”. Science 338, 193 (2012).
Li, Y., Liu, X., Li, X., Petitpierre, B. & Guisan, A. Residence time, expansion toward the Equator in the invaded range and native range size matter to climatic niche shifts in non-native species. Glob. Ecol. Biogeogr. 23, 1094–1104 (2014).
Elith, J. & Leathwick, J. R. Species distribution models: ecological explanation and prediction across space and time. Annu. Rev. Ecol. Syst. 40, 677–697 (2009).
Broennimann, O. et al. Measuring ecological niche overlap from occurrence and spatial environmental data. Glob. Ecol. Biogeogr. 21, 481–497 (2012).
Cox, C. B., Cottage, F. & Close, B. The biogeographic regions reconsidered. J. Biogeogr. 28, 511–523 (2001).
Warren, D. L., Glor, R. E. & Turelli, M. Environmental niche equivalency versus conservatism: quantitative approaches to niche evolution. Evolution 62, 2868–2883 (2008).
Meyer, C., Weigelt, P., Kreft, H. & Lambers, J. H. R. Multidimensional biases, gaps and uncertainties in global plant occurrence information. Ecol. Lett. 19, 992–1006 (2016).
Schoener, T. The Anolis lizards of Bimini: resource partitioning in a complex fauna. Ecology 49, 704–726 (1968).
Rödder, D. & Engler, J. O. Quantitative metrics of overlaps in Grinnellian niches: advances and possible drawbacks. Glob. Ecol. Biogeogr. 20, 915–927 (2011).
Jiménez-Valverde, A. et al. Use of niche models in invasive species risk assessments. Biol. Invasions 13, 2785–2797 (2011).
Václavík, T. & Meentemeyer, R. K. Equilibrium or not? Modelling potential distribution of invasive species in different stages of invasion. Divers. Distrib. 18, 73–83 (2012).
Lee, C. E. Evolutionary genetics of invasive species. Trends Ecol. Evol. 17, 386–391 (2002).
Peterson, A. T. Ecological niche conservatism: a time-structured review of evidence. J. Biogeogr. 38, 817–827 (2011).
Guisan, A. & Thuiller, W. Predicting species distribution: offering more than simple habitat models. Ecol. Lett. 8, 993–1009 (2005).
R Development Core Team R: A Language and Environment for Statistical Computing (R Foundation for Statistical Computing, 2017).
Hijmans, R. J., Cameron, S. E., Parra, J. L., Jones, P. G. & Jarvis, A. Very high resolution interpolated climate surfaces for global land areas. Int. J. Climatol. 25, 1965–1978 (2005).
Revelle, A. W. & Revelle, M. W. psych: Procedures for Psychological, Psychometic, and Rersonality Research R Package Version 1.5.4 (Northwestern University, Evanston, 2016).
Phillips, S. J. et al. Sample selection bias and presence-only distribution models: implications for background and pseudo-absence data. Ecol. Appl. 19, 181–197 (2009).
Yackulic, C. B. et al. Presence-only modelling using MAXENT: when can we trust the inferences? Methods Ecol. Evol. 4, 236–243 (2013).
Nychka, D., Furrer, R., Paige, J. & Sain, S. fields: Tools for Spatial Data R Package Version 8.2–1 (University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, 2015).
Bivand, R. et al. rgdal: Bindings for the 'Geospatial' Data Abstraction Library R Package Version 0.9–2 (Geospatial Data Abstraction Laboratory, 2016).
Hijmans, R. raster: Geographic Data Analysis and Modeling R Package Version 2.3–40 (2016).
Hijmans, R. J., Phillips, S., Leathwick, J. & Elith, J. dismo: Species Distribution Modeling R Package Version 1.0–12 (2016).
Bates, D. M., Maechler, M., Bolker, B. & Walker, S. Fitting linear mixed-effects models usinglme 4. J. Stat. Softw. 67, 1–48 (2015).
Kenward, M. G. & Roger, J. H. Small sample inference for fixed effects from restricted maximuml likelihood. Biometrics 53, 983–997 (1997).
Halekoh, U. & Hojsgaard, S. A Kenward–Roger approximation and parametric bootstrap methods for tests in linear mixed models: the R package pbkrtest. J. Stat. Softw. 59, 1–30 (2014).
Kuznetsova, A., Brockhoff, P. B. & Christensen, R. H. B. lmerTest: Tests in Linear Mixed Effects Models R Package Version 2.0–29 (R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, 2016).
VanDerWal, J., Falconi, L., Januchowski, S., Shoo, L. & Storlie, C. SDMTools: Species Distribution Modelling Tools: Tools for Processing Data Associated with Species Distribution Modelling Exercises R Package Version 1.1–221 (2014).
This work was partially supported by the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the USDA's Controlling Weedy and Invasive Plants programme (2013-67013-21306).
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Atwater, D.Z., Ervine, C. & Barney, J.N. Climatic niche shifts are common in introduced plants. Nat Ecol Evol 2, 34–43 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-017-0396-z
Biological Invasions (2022)
Plant Ecology (2022)
Nature Ecology & Evolution (2021)
Modelled distribution of an invasive alien plant species differs at different spatiotemporal scales under changing climate: a case study of Parthenium hysterophorus L.
Tropical Ecology (2021)
Ecological niche modeling of the pantropical orchid Polystachya concreta (Orchidaceae) and its response to climate change
Scientific Reports (2020)