Increasing mariculture of abalone focuses attention on their immune and stress responses. For abalone, as well as many invertebrates, the function and relationship of these systems and how in vitro tests relate to them are not fully understood. This review focuses on research into the immune system and stress response conducted on abalone and on aspects that can be monitored in vitro. To fill the considerable knowledge gaps, we discuss work on other invertebrate taxa, concentrating on those closest to abalone, and making explicit the phylogenetic relations involved. The stress response appears to be very similar to that in vertebrates, but interpreting most immune responses remains problematic. Phylogeny must be considered: immune function tests derived from research into vertebrates or distantly related invertebrates should not be used in abalone until they have been validated in abalone by studies of susceptibility to pathogens. We suggest phagocytic activity of haemocytes and their efficiency in clearing bacteria are reliable parameters to measure, because they have been directly related to immune competency and are consistently depressed by stress. Carefully designed assays of antimicrobial activity may also be useful. Important aims of future research will be to investigate the relationship between growth, stress and robust immunity, and to develop tests that can be run on production animals, which accurately depict immune status.