Physiological and molecular phylogenetic approaches were used to investigate variation among 12 cyanobacterial strains in their tolerance of sulfide, an inhibitor of oxygenic photosynthesis. Cyanobacteria from sulfidic habitats were found to be phylogenetically diverse and exhibited an approximately 50-fold variation in photosystem II performance in the presence of sulfide. Whereas the degree of tolerance was positively correlated with sulfide levels in the environment, a strain's phenotype could not be predicted from the tolerance of its closest relatives. These observations suggest that sulfide tolerance is a dynamic trait primarily shaped by environmental variation. Despite differences in absolute tolerance, similarities among strains in the effects of sulfide on chlorophyll fluorescence induction indicated a common mode of toxicity. Based on similarities with treatments known to disrupt the oxygen-evolving complex, it was concluded that sulfide toxicity resulted from inhibition of the donor side of photosystem II.