Background/Question/Methods Despite many observations of biogeographic range shifts from the past half-century, responses have been variable, and we lack a predictive understanding of the ecological mechanics needed to guide adaptive management and decision-making. The promise of “big data” through new technologies is to transform our understanding and predictive capacity, yet critical evaluation and guidance is needed. Here we ask how environmental DNA metabarcoding – in its current form - can be optimized to improve our understanding of the ecological processes that determine species range dynamics.
We review theoretical frameworks of species range shift dynamics, from autecological and evolutionary frameworks, to synecological frameworks including species interdependencies, and ask to what extent eDNA can elucidate mechanisms. We present results from recent eDNA studies in nearshore marine environments at local-, regional- and biogeographical-scales to evaluate the capacities of eDNA with concrete examples. Our work provides guidance on how best to challenge ecological theory to improve general understanding using eDNA, how where shortfalls will require filling.