Since the Industrial Revolution began approximately 200 years ago, global atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration (CO2) has increased from 270 to 401 µL L-1 and average global temperatures have risen by 0.85°C, with the most pronounced effects occurring near the poles (IPCC, 2013). In addition, the last 30 years were the warmest decades in 1,400 years (PAGES 2k Consortium, 2013). By the end of this century, [CO2] is expected to reach at least 700 µL L-1, and global temperatures are projected to rise by 4°C or more based on greenhouse gas scenarios (IPCC, 2013). Precipitation regimes also are expected to shift on a regional scale as the hydrologic cycle intensifies, resulting in greater extremes in dry versus wet conditions (Medvigy and Beaulieu, 2012). Such changes already are having profound impacts on the physiological functioning of plants that scale up to influence interactions between plants and other organisms and ecosystems as a whole.
Shifts in climate also may alter selective pressures on plants and, therefore, have the potential to influence evolutionary processes. In some cases, evolutionary responses can occur as rapidly as only a few generations (Ward et al., 2000; Franks et al., 2007; Lau and Lennon, 2012), but there is still much to learn in this area, as pointed out by Franks et al. (2014). Such responses have the potential to alter ecological processes, including species interactions, via eco-evolutionary feedbacks (Shefferson and Salguero-Gómez, 2015). In this seminar review, we discuss processes that can shape plant responses to climate change as well as direct physiological responses to climate change during the recent geologic past as recorded in the fossil record.