Zinc concentrations in 19 species of marine macroalgae and a lichen from western Ireland (Spiddal, Co. Galway) were analysed by atomic absorption spectrophotometry. Algae were collected from a single site but occupied different shore levels and belonged to distinct phylogenetic groupings and to different (previously recognised) morphological groups. Concentrations ranged from 15-115 mug g(-1) dry weight. The greatest variation in concentration occurred amongst the red algal species, containing both maximum and minimum concentrations. Zn concentrations in brown and green algae were generally lower than those in red algae. When grouped according to thallus morphology, thin, branched sheets (which consisted mainly of red algae) contained the highest Zn concentrations. In filamentous algae, Zn levels were higher than in thick-leathery or coarsely branched algae. However, all green algal species examined had similar Zn concentrations, despite their different morphologies. In brown algae, the highest Zn levels were detected in mid-shore fucoids (Fucus vesiculosus and Fucus serratus), while thicker, subtidal and low-shore brown algae (Laminaria digitaia, Halydris siliquosa) exhibited lower Zn concentrations. The lowest Zn concentrations were detected in high-intertidal species (Fucus spiralis, Pelvetia canaliculata), the only marine lichen examined (Ramalina siliquosa) and a red crustose alga (Corallina officinalis). In all morphological groups. red algal representatives contained relatively higher levels of Zn, the exception being Corallina officinalis. Zn levels in 4 species from a second, estuarine site in Galway Bay exhibited the same relative differences amongst species, but were all consistently higher than in algae from Spiddal. It is concluded that Zn accumulation in macroalgae is closely related to ecological growth strategies, following a functional-form model. However, the phylogenetic origin of species which determines carbohydrate and phenol composition, and responses to ambient environmental conditions ultimately determine, the availability of binding sites for polyvalent cations. (C) 2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.