The three domains of life on Earth include the two prokaryotic groups, Archaea and Bacteria. The Archaea are distinguished from Bacteriabased on phylogenetic and biochemical differences, but currently there is no unifying ecological principle to differentiate these groups. The ecology of the Archaea is reviewed here in terms of cellular bioenergetics. Adaptation to chronic energy stress is hypothesized to be the crucial factor that distinguishes the Archaea from Bacteria. The biochemical mechanisms that enable archaea to cope with chronic energy stress include low-permeability membranes and specific catabolic pathways. Based on the ecological unity and biochemical adaptations among archaea, I propose the hypothesis that chronic energy stress is the primary selective pressure governing the evolution of the Archaea.