All life on Earth has a spatial context and associated environmental conditions that contextualize its evolution, ecology and potential exposure to human-induced global change. The genetic and phenotypic make-up of populations, their connectivity, the distribution of species and their attributes, the composition of communities and the relative importance of biotic factors in structuring them -all are critically determined by the specific geographic and abiotic setting. The biosphere’s environmental gradients are now rapidly changing and perturbing these interrelationships, with exact consequences depending on e.g. patterns and opportunities for dispersal, adaptation, and community reassembly. The spatial and environmental context of biodiversity thus provides a unifying theme to the disciplines of ecology, evolution and paleontology, and presents pressing new questions.