Biological systems respond to changing climate across a range of spatial, temporal and ecological scales. Despite attention given to monitoring modern and modeling future ecosystem and species response, some of our most basic facts about biological response to climate comes from paleoclimate records obtained from sediments, ice cores, corals and other archives. Here we will consider three distinct kinds of natural climate patterns and their biotic impacts. First, we will discuss Mesozoic Ocean Anoxic Events, which were perturbations to the global carbon cycle and ocean oxygen levels that occurred about 183, 120.5 and 93.5 million years ago. Second, we examine Quaternary astronomical [orbital] cycles where over the last 500,000 years, global temperature fluctuated by 5-8 degrees Celsius and sea level by up to 130 meters. Finally, we discuss Holocene temperature history covering the last 11,000 years of the current interglacial period.  Each topic has contributed, in unique ways, to understanding biological systems in the context of their physical environment.

In addition, the climate-biology link, when viewed from a historical perspective, might seem to be a natural extension of global environmental research that began in fields like meteorology and oceanography, pioneered by Stockholm's Bert Bolin decades ago. However, there is a caveat that Bolin implicitly recognized - biological systems have unique properties related to their resilience and adaptive capabilities that distinguish them from processes that govern the physical world. As such, we will conclude with a realistic and critical assessment of hypotheses about the future of ecosystems in light of the geological record of climate, and speculate on what Bolin might have thought about communicating these topics to the public.