In order to investigate possible isotopic fractionations due to algal symbiosis the oxygen and carbon isotope compositions of shell carbonate from symbiont-free and symbiont-bearing benthic foraminifera have been compared to that of molluscs living at the same locality. The material was collected over a depth profile in the Gulf of Elat (Aqaba), Israel, covering the interval from 4 to 125 metres. After correcting for variations of temperature with depth, characteristic /sup 18/O-depletions were observed in the foraminiferal shell carbonate when compared to the molluscs. These depletions are interpreted as 1) a constant vital effect seen in all the foraminifera studied and 2) an additional, light-dependent vital effect observed in the symbiont-bearing forms only, caused by incorporation of photosynthetic oxygen formed by the symbiotic algae. This additional vital effect emphasizes the difficulties in applying foraminifera to oxygen isotope palaeotemperature analyses. No well-defined differences in carbon isotope compositions are observed between symbiont-bearing and symbiont-free foraminifera.