Global biological systems face unprecedented challenges from rapid human-induced climate change. Many species and communities are already degraded and stressed from other anthropogenic impacts, and climate change is expected to interact with, and in some cases, exacerbate these stresses. Further, the rapid rate of anticipated change will exceed the capacity of many species to either undergo genetic change, or to shift to more suitable habitat. Many species around the globe are already responding to the climatic changes experienced over the past few decades, with evidence of changes in life cycles, distributions, and populations. Cascading effects on species interactions, community structure and ecosystem function are also being documented at an accelerating rate. This special issue will focus on climate change as a current and future pervasive driver of change for the life support systems of the planet.