The biological responses of four freshwater daphniid species, Daphnia middendorffiana, D. pulicaria, D. pulex and D. parvula, to a single acute dose of ultraviolet B radiation (UVB) were compared. In addition to survival, we compared the induction of DNA damage (i.e. cyclobutane pyrimidine dimers) between species as well as the ability to repair this damage in the presence or absence of photoreactivating light. All four species showed high levels of shielding against DNA damage when compared to damage induced in purified DNA dosimeters at the same time and dose. Significant variation in survival was observed between species depending on temperature and light conditions. Contrary to our expectations, all species showed significantly higher survival and light-dependent DNA damage removal rates at 10 degrees C compared to 20 degrees C, suggesting that the enhanced rate of photoenzymatic repair (PER) at the lower temperature contributed significantly to the recovery of these organisms from UVB. PER was highly effective in promoting survival of three of the four species at 10 degrees C, but at 20 degrees C it was only partially effective in two species, and ineffective in two others. None of the species showed significant dark repair at 20 degrees C and only D. pulicaria showed a significant capacity at 10 degrees C. Two species, D. middendorffiana and D. pulex, showed some short-term survival at 10 degrees C in absence of PER despite their inability to repair any appreciable amount of DNA damage in the dark. All species died rapidly at 20 degrees C in absence of PER, as predicted from complete or near-absence of nucleotide excision repair (NER). Overall, the protective effects of tissue structure and pigmentation were similar in all Daphnia species tested and greatly mitigated the absorption of UVB by DNA and its damaging effects. Surprisingly, the visibly melanotic D. middendorffiana was not better shielded from DNA damage than the three non-melanotic species, and in fact suffered the highest damage rates. Melanin content in this species was not temperature dependent under the experimental growth conditions, and so did not contribute to temperature-dependent responses. It is evident that different species within the same genus have developed diverse biological responses to UVB. Our data strongly suggest that DNA damage is lethal to Daphnia and that photoenzymatic repair is the primary mechanism for removing these lesions. In the absence of light, few species are capable of removing any DNA damage. Surprisingly, the single species in which significant excision repair was detected did so only at reduced temperature. This temperature-dependence of excision repair is striking and may reflect adaptations of certain organisms to stress in a complex and changing environment.