Incorporating physiology into species distribution models moderates the projected impact of warming on Mediterranean marine species.
Species distribution models (SDMs) correlate species occurrences with environmental predictors, and can be used to forecast distributions under future climates. SDMs have been criticized for not explicitly including the physiological processes underlying the species response to the environment. Recently, new methods have been suggested to combine SDMs with physiological estimates of performance (physiology-SDMs). In this study, we compare SDM and physiology-SDM predictions for select marine species in the Mediterranean Sea, a region subjected to exceptionally rapid climate change. We focused on six species and created physiology-SDMs that incorporate physiological thermal performance curves from experimental data with species occurrence records. We then contrasted projections of SDMs and physiology-SDMs under future climate (year 2100) for the entire Mediterranean Sea, and particularly the ‘warm’ trailing edge in the Levant region. Across the Mediterranean, we found cross-validation model performance to be similar for regular SDMs and physiology-SDMs. However, we also show that for around half the species the physiology-SDMs substantially outperform regular SDM in the warm Levant. Moreover, for all species the uncertainty associated with the coefficients estimated from the physiology-SDMs were much lower than in the regular SDMs. Under future climate, we find that both SDMs and physiology-SDMs showed similar patterns, with species predicted to shift their distribution north-west in accordance with warming sea temperatures. However, for the physiology-SDMs predicted distributional changes are more moderate than those predicted by regular SDMs. We conclude, that while physiology-SDM predictions generally agree with the regular SDMs, incorporation of the physiological data led to less extreme range shift forecasts. The results suggest that climate-induced range shifts may be less drastic than previously predicted, and thus most species are unlikely to completely disappear with warming climate. Taken together, the findings emphasize that physiological experimental data can provide valuable supplemental information to predict range shifts of marine species.