One of the outstanding challenges for evolutionary biologists is to understand how developmental plasticity can influence the evolutionary process. Developmental plasticity frequently involves parental effects, which might enable adaptive and context-dependent transgenerational transmission of phenotypic strategies. However, parent-offspring conflict will frequently result in parental effects that are suboptimal for parents, offspring or both. The fitness consequences of parental effects at evolutionary equilibrium will depend on how conflicts can be resolved by modifications of developmental processes, suggesting that proximate studies of development can inform ultimate questions. Furthermore, recent studies of plants and animals show how studies of parental effects in an ecological context provide important insights into the origin and evolution of adaptation under variable environmental conditions.