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How can species remain unaltered for long periods yet also undergo rapid diversification? By linking genetic variation to phenotypic variation via environmental stress, the Hsp90 protein-folding reservoir might promote both stasis and change. However, the nature and adaptive value of Hsp90-contingent traits remain uncertain. In ecologically and genetically diverse yeasts, we find such traits to be both common and frequently adaptive. Most are based on preexisting variation, with causative polymorphisms occurring in coding and regulatory sequences alike. A common temperature stress alters phenotypes similarly. Both selective inhibition of Hsp90 and temperature stress increase correlations between genotype and phenotype. This system broadly determines the adaptive value of standing genetic variation and, in so doing, has influenced the evolution of current genomes.