Mountain lakes located at a high elevation are typically exposed to high UV radiation (UVR). Little is known about the ecology and diversity of yeasts inhabiting these extreme environments. We studied yeast occurrence (with special emphasis on those producing carotenoid pigments) at five high-altitude (>1400 m a.s.l.) water bodies located in the Nahuel Huapi National Park (Bariloche, Argentina). Isolates were identified using a polyphasic approach. Production of photoprotective compounds (carotenoids and mycosporines) by yeast isolates, and UVB resistance of selected species were studied. All water samples contained viable yeast cells in variable numbers, generally ranging from 49 to 209 cells L(-1). A total of 24 yeast species was found; at least four represented novel species. Carotenogenic yeasts prevailed in lakes with low water conductivity and higher transparency and chlorophyll a levels. Apparently, the ability to produce photoprotective compounds in yeasts was related to the transparency of mountain lake waters, and strains from more transparent waters developed increased UVB resistance. Our results indicate that UVR is an important environmental factor affecting the yeast community structure in aquatic habitats.