Many Chrysophyte algae produce morphologically distinctive, siliceous, microscopic cysts during a resting stage of their life cycles; these cysts are often preserved in sediments. Scanning electron microscopy and Nomarski optics permit much more detailed observation of these cysts than was heretofore possible. We have used an ecologic and biogeographic approach to study the distribution of cyst forms in sediments and have established that many cyst types are found only in specific habitats, such as montane lakes, wet meadows, ephemeral ponds, and Sphagnum bogs. In the samples we have studied, cysts seem to be most common in fluctuating fresh-water habitats of low to moderate pH and some winter freezing. Numerous taxonomic problems have yet to be resolved. We believe that chrysophyte cysts have the potential to become a useful tool for both modern environmental assessments and paleoecological studies of Cenozoic fresh-water lacustrine deposits.