In radiation exposure experiments, the effects of mild artificial UV conditions (4.7 W m(-2) UV-A and 0.20 W m(-2) UV-B) plus PAR (25 - 30 micromol photons m(-2) s(-1)) on photosynthesis and ultrastructure of two red algal species from the Arctic have been investigated. While Palmaria palmata was collected from the upper sublittoral of the Kongsfjord (Spitsbergen, Norway), Odonthalia dentata represents a typical deepwater species at this high latitude. After 6 h and 24 h exposure to UV, chlorophyll fluorescence of photosystem II (PS II efficiency, F(v)/F(m)) was determined as an indicator for photosynthetic performance, and the relative electron transport rates in response to increasing photon fluence rates were recorded. In parallel, tissue samples were prepared for the transmission electron microscope (TEM). The presented data clearly demonstrate a significant influence of experimental UV on photosynthetic performance. Photochemical efficiency of PS II of both red algal species decreased to about one third of the initial value under UV. While the PI (photosynthesis-irradiance) curve parameter alpha (positive slope at limiting photon fluence rates) strongly decreased in both plants, the I(k) values (initial value of light-saturated photosynthetic rate) increased 3 - 5-fold. Palmaria palmata does not appear to become photoinhibited under these conditions, but O. dentata showed strong photoinhibition. The TEM results demonstrated that the photosynthetic apparatus was severely influenced by UV in both species, because thylakoid membranes appeared wrinkled, lumen dilatations occurred, and the outer membranes were altered. Moreover, mitochondria were damaged, and numerous plasma vesicles were observed. In conclusion, both red algal species are negatively affected by UV on the physiological and ultrastructural level. However, the differences in photoinhibitory responses correlate well with the vertical depth zonation of P. palmata and O. dentata in the Arctic Kongsfjord.