Phytoplankton abundance, biomass and species composition of the Caspian Sea were evaluated by using samples collected from the Iranian (southern Caspian Sea) and southern Kazakhstan (eastern Caspian Sea) surface waters in March 2001. A total of 45 taxa were found in the samples (20 diatoms, 17 dinoflagellates and 8 others). Abundance and biomass of diatoms were high at the eastern stations, while dinoflagellates were dominant in terms of both biomass and abundance in the southern region. Average abundance and biomass were 40 000 +/- 35 000 cell l(-1) and 580 +/- 690 mu g l(-1). The mean biomass value found here for the Middle and southern Caspian Sea in March are difficult to compare with the past due to limited information, but seems higher than previously registered values. Higher chlorophyll values were also apparent from the Sea WIFS images in 2001 compared to those in 1998. This is suggested to be due to decreased grazing of phytoplankton by zooplankton which is voraciously preyed by the recent invasive ctenophore Mnemiopsis leidyi.