Climate change and the global redistribution of biodiversity: substantial variation in empirical support for expected range shifts (April 2023)  

Among the most widely predicted climate change-related impacts to biodiversity are geographic range shifts, whereby species shift their spatial distribution to track their climate niches. A series of commonly articulated hypotheses have emerged in the scientific literature suggesting species are expected to shift their distributions to higher latitudes, greater elevations, and deeper depths in response to rising temperatures associated with climate change. Yet, many species are not demonstrating range shifts consistent with these expectations. Here, we evaluate the impact of anthropogenic climate change (specifically, changes in temperature and precipitation) on species’ ranges, and assess whether expected range shifts are supported by the body of empirical evidence. Despite growing evidence that species are shifting their ranges in response to climate change, substantial variation exists in the extent to which definitively empirical observations confirm these expectations. Even though on average, rates of shift show significant movement to higher elevations and latitudes for many taxa, most species are not shifting in expected directions. Variation across dimensions and parameters of range shifts, as well as differences across taxonomic groups and variation driven by methodological factors, should be considered when assessing overall confidence in range-shift hypotheses. In order for managers to effectively plan for species redistribution, we need to better account for and predict which species will shift and by how much. The dataset produced for this analysis can be used for future research to explore additional hypotheses to better understand species range shifts.