Climate change is likely to have profound impacts on species distributions and ecosystem assembly. Many regions will exhibit novel climates without present-day analogue and much uncertainty exists as to how ecosystems will look like that are going to assemble under these conditions. Determining which species are able to grow under novel conditions requires mechanistic physiology-based niche models that are capable of predicting outside the range of currently observed conditions. We applied such a model to ~20,000 African plant species from different functional types to describe their physiological niche and potential distribution under ambient climate conditions. The biomes that emerge from that exercise resemble actual biome distributions in Africa well. This implies that our approach is suitable for forecasting the future distribution of current and novel biomes, which is the next step on our agenda.