The dog-whelk Nucella lapillus exhibits a number of phenotypic variations and genetic polymorphisms which correlate with habitat-specific environmental pressures, especially those associated with wave action and temperature. This study investigates the relationship between genetic composition (karyotypic and electrophoretic variation) and phenotypic differentiation in N. lapillus sampled at 15 points along an 8 km stretch of coastline. Coincident clinal variation in gene frequencies and shell shape is described; they covary with differences in karyotype and also with growth. Laboratory-reared young show that differences in phenotype (shell shape and growth) are inherited. Experimental evidence is presented that specific shell shapes are adaptive under conditions of thermal stress. Together with the well-established correlations between shell shape and shore exposure, this association provides an argument for a relationship between genetic composition, phenotype and habitat in this species.