The unicellular green alga Dunaliella bardawil exhibits typical responses to excessive light when starved for sulfate under normal light (60 [mu]E m-2 s-1) but not under low light (14 [mu]E m-2 s-1). Algae were analyzed during several days of sulfate starvation for nonphotochemical quenching of chlorophyll fluorescence in the absence or presence of the uncouplers SF-6847 (SF) or carbonyl cyanide p- trifluoromethoxyphenyl hydrazone. Parallel analyses followed two light-stress responses: (a) violaxanthin conversion to zeaxanthin and (b) accumulation of Cbr, a protein analogous to plant early-light-induced proteins and implicated in zeaxanthin binding. In cells starved under normal light SF inhibited nonphotochemical quenching during the first 24 h, but not from 40 h onward. In cells starved under low light SF inhibited nonphotochemical quenching throughout the starvation period. Under normal light accumulation of zeaxanthin was nearly maximal by 24 h, but Cbr was fully induced only by 40h. Under low light zeaxanthin accumulated slowly but no Cbr was evident. These results suggest that during exposure to excessive light, the initial pH gradient-dependent, Cbr-independent mode of nonphotochemical quenching is modified to become less dependent on pH gradient and requires Cbr.