Ecology and Quaternary palaeoecology have largely developed as parallel disciplines. Although both pursue related questions, information exchange is often hampered by particularities of the palaeoecological data and a communication gap has been perceived between the disciplines. Based on selected topics and developments mainly in Quaternary palaeoecology, we show that both disciplines have converged somewhat during recent years, while we still see untapped potential for closer interactions. Macroecology is probably the discipline that most easily combines different time scales and where co-operations between palaeoecologists, geneticists and vegetation modellers have been inspiring. Quantitative vegetation reconstructions provide robust estimates of tree composition and land cover at different spatial scales, suitable for testing hypotheses about long-term vegetation changes or as quantitative background data in studies on contemporary vegetation patterns. Palaeo data also hold yet unexplored potential to study the drivers of long-term diversity, and aspects of functional diversity may facilitate comparisons between continents and over glacial–interglacial cycles.