Assessing risks of climate-driven range shifts through the lens of invasion biology

Dr Toni Lyn Morelli1,2, Piper Wallingford3, Jenica Allen4, Evelyn Beaury2, Dana Blumenthal5, Bethany Bradley2, Jeffrey Dukes6, Regan Early7, Emily Fusco2, Deborah Goldberg8, Inés Ibáñez8, Brittany Laginhas2, Valerie Pasquarella9, Montserrat Vilà10, Raj Whitlock11, Cascade Sorte3

1US Geological Survey, Hadley, United States, 2University of Massachusetts, Hadley, United States, 3University of California, Irvine, United States, 4University of New Hampshire, Durham, United States, 5USDA Agricultural Research Service, Fort Collins, United States, 6Purdue University, West Lafayette, United States, 7Exeter University, Exeter, UK, 8University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, United States, 9Harvard Forest, Petersham, United States, 10Estación Biológica de Doñana–Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Sevilla, Spain, 11University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK

Climate change is increasingly altering species’ ranges and distributions as non-native species spread to new communities. Such range shifts help species persist through climatic changes, and there is a strong push in the conservation and climate change adaptation communities to prevent barriers to species’ natural range shifts, which are seen as overwhelmingly beneficial in the context of climate change. However, with the exception of problematic species, few studies have assessed the impacts that range-shifting species may have as they establish in new communities, especially broader community and ecosystem ecological impacts. Here, we leverage our knowledge of biological invasions to assess the likelihood of a range-shifting species to cause negative impacts. Invasion risk assessments are based on the factors that influence the invasion process, including transport, establishment, population growth, spread, and impact. Some of these same components pertain to risks of range-shifting species, and we suggest leveraging invasion ecology theory and management tools to prioritize and assess the risks associated with range-shifting species. Similarly, increasing habitat connectivity must be based on analyses of donor and recipient communities with a focus on providing connectivity for high priority, low risk nearby-natives. As species shift to track a changing climate, we have a unique opportunity to facilitate advantageous, and discourage potentially problematic, movement of species in real time.


Toni Lyn Morelli is a research ecologist with the US Geological Survey at the Department of Interior Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center. She obtained her B.S. in Zoology and her Ph.D. in Ecology & Evolution studying lemur behavior and conservation genetics in Madagascar. She went on to do postdoctoral research at University of California at Berkeley focused on the impacts of climate change on montane mammals. She has also worked for the U.S. Forest Service both in the U.S. and in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Her current research focuses on working with natural resource managers to improve conservation efforts in the face of climate change.

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