The inhibitor propyl gallate was used to estimate partitioning of respiratory electron flow between the cytochrome amd alternative pathways in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii Dangeard. Nutrient limitation (nitrogen or phosphorus resulted in a large increase in alternative pathway capacity relative to cytochrome pathway activity, without regulating in engagement of the alternative pathway. High rates of respiration, which could be induced in phosphate-starved cells by a combination of phosphate addition and uncoupler, resulted in alternative pathway activity. Osmotic stress resulted in decreased electron flow through the cytochrome pathway and increased flow through the alternative pathway, while high temperature also resulted in alternative pathway engagement. Incubation with exogenous carbon sources could increase the rate of respiratory O2 consumption; the increase was mediated entirely by the alternative pathway. We suggest that the alternative pathway functions in these cells both to maintain respiration during environmentally induced stress and as on energy overflow.