Intertidal seaweeds are periodically exposed to air where they experience a variety of potentially stressful environmental conditions, including nutrient limitation, high light, high and low temperature, desiccation, and osmotic stress. This paper considers the current understanding of stress tolerance in intertidal seaweeds and discusses ways in which future research could increase our understanding of the role of environmental factors in the ecology and physiology of these algae. We believe research is required in at least three areas. 1) Laboratory physiological studies have established that correlations exist between stress tolerance and the vertical distribution of species. However, little information is available on the importance of stress in determining community structure in nature. Field experiments are essential to relate the impact of single or multiple stresses on the survival, growth, and reproductive output of macroalgae. In paticular, it is necessary to clarify the role of sublethal stress in determining the outcome of competitive interactions. 2) With the exception of obvious lethal effects or damage associated with extreme environmental conditions, such as unusually hot and dry weather, it is difficult to evaluate the occurrence and severity of stress in natural populations of seaweeds. There is a need to develop molecular and biochemical markers specific for individual stresses or groups of stresses to allow the unambiguous and direct determination of stress in situ. 3) Despite the apparent importance of stress in intertidal seaweeds, we are largely ignorant of the mechanistic basis of tolerance. The application of currently available tools of molecular and cell biology to the investigation of stress-induced transcriptional and translational changes could enormously increase our understanding of both the sites of, and pathways involved in, stress tolerance. In summary, there are numerous unanswered fundamental questions about the stress tolerance of intertidal seaweeds, providing opportunities for research ranging from field ecology to molecular biology and biochemistry.