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Range shifting is vital for species persistence, but there is little consensus on why individual species vary so greatly in the rates at which their ranges have shifted in response to recent climate warming. Here, using 40 years of distribution data for 291 species from 13 invertebrate taxa in Britain, we show that interactions between habitat availability and exposure to climate change at the range margins explain up to half of the variation in rates of range shift. Habitat generalists expanded faster than more specialised species, but this intrinsic trait explains less of the variation in range shifts than habitat availability, which additionally depends on extrinsic factors that may be rare or widespread at the range margin. Similarly, while climate change likely underlies polewards expansions, we find that more of the between-species variation is explained by differences in habitat availability than by changes in climatic suitability. A model that includes both habitat and climate, and their statistical interaction, explains the most variation in range shifts. We conclude that climate-change vulnerability assessments should focus as much on future habitat availability as on climate sensitivity and exposure, with the expectation that habitat restoration and protection will substantially improve species’ abilities to respond to uncertain future climates.
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