The best predictor of leaf level photosynthetic rate is the porosity of the leaf surface, as determined by the number and aperture of stomata on the leaf. This remarkable correlation between stomatal porosity (or diffusive conductance to water vapour gs) and CO2 assimilation rate (A) applies to all major lineages of vascular plants (Figure 1) and is sufficiently predictable that it provides the basis for the model most widely used to predict water and CO2 fluxes from leaves and canopies. Yet the Ball–Berry formulation is only a phenomenological approximation that captures the emergent character of stomatal behaviour. Progressing to a more mechanistic prediction of plant gas exchange is challenging because of the diversity of biological components regulating stomatal action. These processes are the product of more than 400 million years of co‐evolution between stomatal, vascular and photosynthetic tissues. Both molecular and structural components link the abiotic world of the whole plant with the turgor pressure of the epidermis and guard cells, which ultimately determine stomatal pore size and porosity to water and CO2 exchange (New Phytol., 168, 2005, 275). In this review we seek to simplify stomatal behaviour by using an evolutionary perspective to understand the principal selective pressures involved in stomatal evolution, thus identifying the primary regulators of stomatal aperture. We start by considering the adaptive process that has locked together the regulation of water and carbon fluxes in vascular plants, finally examining specific evidence for evolution in the proteins responsible for regulating guard cell turgor.