Environments are changing rapidly, and to cope with these changes, organisms have to adapt. Adaptation can take many shapes and occur at different speeds, depending on the type of response, the trait, the population, and the environmental conditions. The biodiversity crisis that we are currently facing illustrates that numerous species and populations are not capable of adapting with sufficient speed to ongoing environmental changes. Here, we discuss current knowledge on the ability of animals and plants to adapt to environmental stress on different timescales, mainly focusing on thermal stress and ectotherms. We discuss within‐generation responses that can be fast and induced within minutes or hours, evolutionary adaptations that are often slow and take several generations, and mechanisms that lay somewhere in between and that include epigenetic transgenerational effects. To understand and predict the impacts of environmental change and stress on biodiversity, we suggest that future studies should (1) have an increased focus on understanding the type and speed of responses to fast environmental changes; (2) focus on the importance of environmental fluctuations and the predictability of environmental conditions on adaptive capabilities, preferably in field studies encompassing several fitness components; and (3) look at ecosystem responses to environmental stress and their resilience when disturbed.