The relatively short life cycles of harpacticoid copepods makes them appropriate animals for use in tests that rapidly assess the #180, sublethal, or chronic effects of sediment contaminants. In this study, four harpacticoid copepod species (Nitocra spinipes, Tisbe tenuimana, Robertgurneya hopkinsi, and Halectinosoma sp.) were isolated from clean marine sediments, and procedures for laboratory culturing were developed. Halectinosoma sp. was abandoned due to handling difficulties. For the remaining species, the influence of food type and quantity on life-cycle progression was assessed. A mixed diet, comprising two species of algae (Tetraselmis sp. and Isochrysis sp.) and fish food (Sera Micron) was found to maintain healthy cultures and was fed during laboratory tests. Water-only exposure to dissolved copper (Cu) showed that the times (range) required to cause 50% lethality (LT(50)) were 24 (22-27) h at 50 mu g Cu/l for T. tenuimana; 114 (100-131) and 36 (32-40) h for 200 and 400 mu g Cu/l, respectively, for N. spinipes; and 119 (71-201) and 25 (18-33) h for 200 and 400 mu g Cu/l, respectively, for R. hopkinsi. 96-h LC(50) (concentration causing 50% lethality) were also determined for adult N. spinipes exposed to cadmium, copper, zinc, ammonia, and phenol. A ranking system was generated based on the ease handling and culturing, rate of maturity, food selectivity and sensitivity to Cu. From this ranking, N. spinipes was determined to be the most suitable species for use in developing sediment-toxicity tests. The measurement of total reproductive output of N. spinipes during 10-day exposure to whole sediment was found to provide a useful end point for assessing the effects of sediment contamination."