The late Quaternary paleorecord, within the past ∼130,000 years, can help to inform present-day management of the Earth’s ecosystems and biota under climate change. Fordham et al. review when and where rapid climate transitions can be found in the paleoclimate record. They show how such events in Earth’s history can shape our understanding of the consequences of future global warming, including rates of biodiversity loss, changes in ecosystem structure and function, and degradation in the goods and services that these ecosystems provide to humanity. They also highlight how recent developments at the intersection of paleoecology, paleoclimatology, and macroecology can provide opportunities to anticipate and manage the responses of species and ecosystems to changing climates in the Anthropocene.