Populations adapt to novel environments in two distinct ways: selection on pre-existing genetic variation and selection on new mutations. These alternative sources of beneficial alleles can result in different evolutionary dynamics and distinct genetic outcomes. Compared with new mutations, adaptation from standing genetic variation is likely to lead to faster evolution, the fixation of more alleles of small effect and the spread of more recessive alleles. There is potential to distinguish between adaptation from standing variation and that from new mutations by differences in the genomic signature of selection. Here we review these approaches and possible examples of adaptation from standing variation in natural populations. Understanding how the source of genetic variation affects adaptation will be integral for predicting how populations will respond to changing environments.