Standard algal growth rate inhibition bioassays can lack environmental realism and may over- or underestimate metal bioavailability in natural systems. In aquatic environments, algal species interact with other biota, including other algae, bacteria and biofilms. In this work, the feasibility of incorporating marine biofilms into 72h algal growth inhibition toxicity tests was explored. The effects of copper on Tetraselmis sp. were tested in the absence and presence of characterised field-collected biofilms. We hypothesised that the addition of biofilm would prevent copper toxicity to the alga primarily through interactions of the metal with other cells and biofilm exudates. The sensitivity of Tetraselmis sp. to copper (based on 72h IC50 values; the copper concentration to inhibit population growth by 50%) in the presence of a blended biofilm inoculum varied 2-fold and was independent of the amount of biofilm added. However, increases in IC10 and IC20 values indicated some amelioration of copper toxicity. When intact biofilms were added to the bioassays, amelioration of toxicity was more consistent, probably due to increased binding of copper to cell surfaces or exudates. Difficulties in characterising biofilms and distinguishing that material from the test alga need to be overcome before biofilms can be routinely incorporated into laboratory bioassays. © 2011 CSIRO.