Understanding the factors that limit species distributions has become increasingly important in the face of rapid climate change. Many approaches have been used to predict responses of species and communities to new environmental challenges, including species distribution modelling, glasshouse and growth cabinet experiments, and small-scale field manipulations, all of which have both advantages and limitations. Here, we review the use of a powerful, direct method to predict how species and communities will respond to the changing climate: the field transplant experiment. We discuss how transplant experiments can elucidate the factors that limit species distributions; disentangle the role of genetic change vs. phenotypic plasticity in species’ responses; and improve understanding of the role of species interactions in driving community change. Several generalisations about potential species’ responses to climate change are emerging from these studies, including the critical role of specific life stages in response to warming trends, the role of natural enemies and new hosts in limiting or promoting adaptive capacity, and the role of niche saturation in conferring community stability at a functional guild level. Transplant experiments have also confirmed likely mechanisms of recent range shifts and highlighted the potential for some modelling exercises to overestimate future range changes. With the prospect that accelerating warming over the next few decades will increase extinction rates and accelerate ecosystem degradation, we urge researchers to utilise this powerful but underused method more widely.