Lipid content and fatty acid profiles of corals and their dinoflagellate endosymbionts are known to vary in response to high-temperature stress. To better understand the heat-stress response in these symbionts, we investigated cultures of Symbiodinium goreauii type C1 and Symbiodinium sp. clade subtype D1 grown under a range of temperatures and durations. The predominant lipids produced by Symbiodinium are palmitic (C16) and stearic (C18) saturated fatty acids and their unsaturated analogs, the polyunsaturated fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (C22:6, n-3; DHA), and a variety of sterols. Prolonged exposure to high temperature causes the relative amount of unsaturated acids within the C18 fatty acids in Symbiodinium tissue to decrease. Thermal stress also causes a decrease in abundance of fatty acids relative to sterols, as well as the more specific ratio of DHA to an algal 4-methyl sterol. These shifts in fatty acid unsaturation and fatty acid-to-sterol ratios are common to both types C1 and D1, but the apparent thermal threshold of lipid changes is lower for type C1. This work indicates that ratios among free fatty acids and sterols in Symbiodinium can be used as sensitive indicators of thermal stress. If the Symbiodinium lipid stress response is unchanged in hospite, the algal heat-stress biomarkers we have identified could be measured to detect thermal stress within the coral holobiont. These results provide new insights into the potential role of lipids in the overall Symbiodinium thermal stress response. © 2013 Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.