Water availability is a major environmental challenge to a variety of terrestrial organisms. In insects, desiccation tolerance varies predictably over spatial and temporal scales and is an important physiological determinant of fitness in natural populations. Here, we examine the dynamics of desiccation tolerance in North American populations of Drosophila melanogaster using: (a) natural populations sampled across latitudes and seasons; (b) experimental evolution in field mesocosms over seasonal time; (c) genome-wide associations to identify SNPs/genes associated with variation for desiccation tolerance; and (d) subsequent analysis of patterns of clinal/seasonal enrichment in existing pooled sequencing data of populations sampled in both North America and Australia. A cline in desiccation tolerance was observed, for which tolerance exhibited a positive association with latitude; tolerance also varied predictably with culture temperature, demonstrating a significant degree of thermal plasticity. Desiccation tolerance evolved rapidly in field mesocosms, although only males showed differences in desiccation tolerance between spring and autumn collections from natural populations. Water loss rates did not vary significantly among latitudinal or seasonal populations; however, changes in metabolic rates during prolonged exposure to dry conditions are consistent with increased tolerance in higher latitude populations. Genome-wide associations in a panel of inbred lines identified twenty-five SNPs in twenty-one loci associated with sex-averaged desiccation tolerance, but there is no robust signal of spatially varying selection on genes associated with desiccation tolerance. Together, our results suggest that desiccation tolerance is a complex and important fitness component that evolves rapidly and predictably in natural populations.