Strategies for the identification of functional genetic variation underlying phenotypic traits of ecological and evolutionary importance have received considerable attention in the literature recently. This paper aims to bring together and compare the relative strengths and limitations of various potentially useful research strategies for dissecting functionally important genetic variation in a wide range of organisms. We briefly explore the relative strengths and limitations of traditional and emerging approaches and evaluate their potential use in free-living populations. While it is likely that much of the progress in functional genetic analyses will rely on progress in traditional model species, it is clear that with prudent choices of methods and appropriate sampling designs, much headway can be also made in a diverse range of species. We suggest that combining research approaches targeting different functional and biological levels can potentially increase understanding the genetic basis of ecological and evolutionary processes both in model and non-model organisms.