Many recent studies have evaluated how global changes will affect biodiversity, and have mainly focused on how to develop conservation strategies to avoid, or at least minimize, extinctions due to shifts in suitable habitats for the species. However, these complex potential responses might be in part structured in phylogeny, because of the macroecological traits underlying them. In this comment, we review recent analytical developments in phylogenetic comparative methods that can be used to understand patterns of trait changes under environmental change. We focus on a partial regression approach that allows for partitioning the variance of traits into a fraction attributed to a pure ecological component, a fraction attributed to phylogenetically structured environmental variation (niche conservatism) and a fraction that may be attributed to phylogenetic effects only. We then develop a novel interpretation for linking these components for multiple traits with potential responses of species to global environmental change (i.e. adaptation, range shifts or extinctions). We hope that this interpretation will stimulate further research linking evolutionary components of multiple traits with broad-scale environmental changes.