The paucity of empirical data on processes in species life cycles demands tools to extract insight from field observations. Such insights help inform policy on invasive species and on impacts of climate change at regional and local scales. We used the CLIMEX model to infer the response of the red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta Buren (Hymenoptera: Formicidae), to temperature and moisture from its range in the United States. We tested hypotheses on the mechanisms that limit the distribution of the ant and estimated the potential global area at risk from invasion. The ant can spread further in the United States, including north along the west coast, where patterns of infestation will differ from those in the east. We analyzed the risk of colonization in Australia and New Zealand, where the ant was recently discovered. The patterns of infestation of the ant in Oceania will differ from those in the eastern United States, with slower growth and less winter mortality. This study adds to earlier temperature-based models by incorporating a moisture response; by replacing arbitrary categories of colony size to predict overwintering success with a site-specific model based on the balance between annual growth and survival; and by comparing different hypotheses on low temperature-related mechanisms that limit the geographical distribution. It shows how the response of a species to climate can be synthesized from field observations to provide useful insights into its population dynamics. Such analyses provide a basis for making decisions on regional management of invasive species and an informative context for local studies.
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