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© 2019 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved. Theory suggests that evolutionary changes in phenotypic plasticity could either hinder or facilitate evolutionary rescue in a changing climate. Nevertheless, the actual role of evolving plasticity in the responses of natural populations to climate change remains unresolved. Direct observations of evolutionary change in nature are rare, making it difficult to assess the relative contributions of changes in trait means versus changes in plasticity to climate change responses. To address this gap, this review explores several proxies that can be used to understand evolving plasticity in the context of climate change, including space for time substitutions, experimental evolution and tests for genomic divergence at environmentally responsive loci. Comparisons among populations indicate a prominent role for divergence in environmentally responsive traits in local adaptation to climatic gradients. Moreover, genomic comparisons among such populations have identified pervasive divergence in the regulatory regions of environmentally responsive loci. Taken together, these lines of evidence suggest that divergence in plasticity plays a prominent role in adaptation to climatic gradients over space, indicating that evolving plasticity is also likely to play a key role in adaptive responses to climate change through time. This suggests that genetic variation in plastic responses to the environment (G E) might be an important predictor of species’ vulnerabilities to climate-driven decline or extinction.

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Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences