We investigated rates and mechanisms of photoacclimation in cultures of Phaeocystis antarctica G. Karst. and Fragilariopsis cylindrus (Grunow) Willi Krieg, phytoplankton taxa that each dominate distinct areas of the Ross Sea, Antarctica. Both P. antarctica and F. cylindrus acclimated to increases in irradiance by reducing the effective size of the pigment antenna (σPSII) via xanthophyll-cycle activity and reductions in chl. While enhanced photoprotection facilitated increases in specific growth rate and eventually led to higher light-saturated photosynthetic rates (Pcellm) in P. antarctica, increases in those variables were much smaller in F. cylindrus. In response to a lower irradiance, relaxation of xanthophyll-cycle activity led to an increase in σPSII in both taxa, which occurred much more slowly in F. cylindrus. A surprising increase in specific growth rate over the first 36 h of acclimation in P. antarctica may have facilitated the significant reductions in Pcellm observed in that taxon. In general, P. antarctica acclimated more quickly to changes in irradiance than F. cylindrus, exhibited a wider range in photosynthetic rates, but was more susceptible to photoinhibition. This acclimation strategy is consistent with growth in deeply mixed water columns with variations in irradiance that allow time for repair. In contrast, the slower acclimation rates, extensive photoprotection, and low photoinhibition exhibited by F. cylindrus suggest that it does not require the same period for repair as P. antarctica and is best suited for growth in habitats with relatively uniform irradiance, such as shallow mixed layers or sea ice.