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© The Author 2015. Climate change conservation planning relies heavily on correlative species distribution models that estimate future areas of occupancy based on environmental conditions encountered in present-day ranges. The approach benefits from rapid assessment of vulnerability over a large number of organisms, but can have poor predictive power when transposed to novel environments and reveals little in the way of causal mechanisms that define changes in species distribution or abundance. Having conservation planning rely largely on this single approach also increases the risk of policy failure. Mechanistic models that are parameterized with physiological information are expected to be more robust when extrapolating distributions to future environmental conditions and can identify physiological processes that set range boundaries. Implementation of mechanistic species distribution models requires knowledge of how environmental change influences physiological performance, and because this information is currently restricted to a comparatively small number of well-studied organisms, use of mechanistic modelling in the context of climate change conservation is limited. In this review, we propose that the need to develop mechanistic models that incorporate physiological data presents an opportunity for physiologists to contribute more directly to climate change conservation and advance the field of conservation physiology. We begin by describing the prevalence of species distribution modelling in climate change conservation, highlighting the benefits and drawbacks of both mechanistic and correlative approaches. Next, we emphasize the need to expand mechanistic models and discuss potential metrics of physiological performance suitable for integration into mechanistic models. We conclude by summarizing other factors, such as the need to consider demography, limiting broader application of mechanistic models in climate change conservation. Ideally, modellers, physiologists and conservation practitioners would work collaboratively to build models, interpret results and consider conservation management options, and articulating this need here may help to stimulate collaboration.

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Conservation Physiology