The marine oligotrophic ultramicrobacterium Sphingomonas alaskensis RB2256 has a physiology that is distinctly different from that of typical copiotrophic marine bacteria, such as Vibrio angustum S14. This includes a high level of inherent stress resistance and the absence of starvation-induced stress resistance to hydrogen peroxide. In addition to periods of starvation in the ocean, slow, nutrient-limited growth is likely to be encountered by oligotrophic bacteria for substantial periods of time. In this study we examined the effects of growth rate on the resistance of S. alaskensis RB2256 to hydrogen peroxide under carbon or nitrogen limitation conditions in nutrient-limited chemostats. Glucose-limited cultures of S. alaskensis RB2256 at a specific growth rate of 0.02 to 0.13 h-1 exhibited 10,000-fold-greater viability following 60 min of exposure to 25 mM hydrogen peroxide than cells growing at a rate of 0.14 h-1 or higher. Growth rate control of stress resistance was found to be specific to carbon and energy limitation in this organism. In contrast, V. angustum S14 did not exhibit growth rate-dependent stress resistance. The dramatic switch in stress resistance that was observed under carbon and energy limitation conditions has not been described previously in bacteria and thus may be a characteristic of the oligotrophic ultramicrobacterium. Catalase activity varied marginally and did not correlate with the growth rate, indicating that hydrogen peroxide breakdown was not the primary mechanism of resistance. More than 1,000 spots were resolved on silver-stained protein gels for cultures growing at rates of 0.026, 0.076, and 0.18 h-1. Twelve protein spots had intensities that varied by more than twofold between growth rates and hence are likely to be important for growth rate-dependent stress resistance. These studies demonstrated the crucial role that nutrient limitation plays in the physiology of S. alaskensis RB2256, especially under oxidative stress conditions.