Differentiation in temperature responses (survival and growth) was investigated among isolates of two tropical to temperate green algal lineages: the Cladophora vagabunda complex and the C. albida/sericea complex. The results were analysed in relation to published data on 18S rRNA and ITS sequence divergence, which have shown that the overall degree of genetic divergence is similar in the two lineages but that very different patterns of radiation have occurred. In the C. vagabunda complex, the two main clades in the well-resolved phylogenetic tree differed mainly in their tolerance to low temperatures. Within-clade variation was no stronger in the Atlantic/Pacific than in the all-Pacific clade. In the C. albida/sericea complex, six distinctive ITS types indicated early radiation. Although distinctive differences were found between some of these types, the thermal responses of others were very similar, indicating physiological stasis. In both lineages there was evidence for some adaptation to local temperature regimes but phylogenetic constraints were generally more important. Isolates with the same ITS sequences showed similar temperature responses even though collected from different climate zones. Evidence was found for a physiological trade-off between growth at high and at low temperatures in the C. albida/sericea complex, whereas, in the C. vagabunda complex, one clade showed more eurythermal growth responses than the other. In the C. vagabunda complex, which is the ancestral lineage of the C. albida/sericea complex, major differentiation was found in cold tolerance but not in heat tolerance, whereas the reverse pattern was found in the derived C. albida/sericea complex. These findings suggest that an acquisition of cold tolerance preceded the loss of heat tolerance during adaptation to colder climates.