Unicellular photosynthetic algae (dinoflagellate) from the genus Symbiodinium live in mutualistic symbiosis with reef-building corals. Cultured Symbiodinium sp. (clade C) were exposed to a range of environmental stresses that included elevated temperatures (29°C and 32°C) under high (100 μmol quanta m -2s -1 Photosynthetic Active Radiation) and low (10 μmol quanta m -2s -1) irradiances. Using real-time RT-PCR the stability of expression for the nine selected putative housekeeping genes (HKGs) was tested. The most stable expression pattern was identified for cyclophilin and S-adenosyl methionine synthetase (SAM) followed by S4 ribosomal protein (Rp-S4), Calmodulin (Cal), and Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (Cox), respectively. Thermal stress alone resulted in the highest expression stability for Rp-S4 and SAM, with a minimum of two reference genes required for data normalization. For Symbiodinium exposed to both, light and thermal stresses, at least five reference genes were recommended by geNorm analysis. In parallel, the expression of Hsp90 for Symbiodinium in culture and in symbiosis within coral host (Acropora millepora) was evaluated using the most stable HKGs. Our results revealed a drop in Hsp90 expression after an 18 h-period and a 24 h-period of exposure to elevated temperatures indicating the similar Hsp90 expression profile in symbiotic and non-symbiotic environments. This study provides the first list of the HKGs and will provide a useful reference in future gene expression studies in symbiotic dinoflagellates. © 2010 Springer Science+Business Media, LLC.