Marine intertidal organisms are subjected to a variety of abiotic stresses, including aerial exposure and wide ranges of temperature. Intertidal species generally have higher thermal tolerance limits than do subtidal species, and tropical species have higher thermal tolerance limits than do temperate species. The adaptive significance of upper thermal tolerance limits of intertidal organisms, however, has not been examined within a comparative context. Here, we present a comparative analysis of the adaptive significance of upper thermal tolerance limits in 20 congeneric species of porcelain crabs, genus Petrolisthes, from intertidal and subtidal habitats throughout the eastern Pacific. Upper thermal tolerance limits are positively correlated with surface water temperatures and with maximal microhabitat temperatures. Analysis of phylogenetically independent contrasts (from a phylogenetic tree on the basis of the 16s rDNA gene sequence) suggests that upper thermal tolerance limits have evolved in response to maximal microhabitat temperatures. Upper thermal tolerance limits increased during thermal acclimation at elevated temperatures, the amount of increase being greater for subtidal than for intertidal species. This result suggests that the upper thermal tolerance limits of some intertidal species may be near current habitat temperature maxima, and global warming thus may affect the distribution limits of intertidal species to a greater extent than for subtidal species.