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We work at two interesting and important interfaces: one of our aims is to understand how evolutionary and ecological processes interact; another is to enhance communication between empiricists and theoreticians. Working at these crossroads makes it clear that it is far too simplistic to view evolution as a process where better adapted genotypes continually arise and replace their less successful competitors; it is particularly incorrect to assume that population performance as a whole is bound to improve. There are many reasons for why this view needs an update. As an example, populations of many species consist of males and females, and selection can favour different traits in them, not always to the benefit of adaptedness to the environment if this is measured at the population level. Spatiotemporal variation in environments creates another set of challenges that are not always easy to adapt to – especially on a planet undergoing rapid anthropogenic change.