Biomarkers are widely used to measure environmental impacts on marine species. For many biomarkers, it is not clear how the signal levels relate to effects on the whole organism. This paper shows how species sensitivity distributions (SSDs) can be applied to evaluate multiple biomarker responses in species assemblages. To our knowledge, the present study compared for the first time SSDs based on biomarker response levels for marine species to a SSD for whole-organism responses. The comparison indicates that for exposure to dispersed oil in the marine environment, the selected biomarkers were, on average, 35- to 50-fold more sensitive than the whole-organism effect. At the 5% hazardous concentration derived from the SSD for whole-organism effects, which is a conservative threshold level, the potentially affected fraction of species showing biomarker response corresponds to approximately 80%. Variation in species sensitivity, expressed either as biomarker or as whole-organism response levels, were similar. Although uncertainties exist, the link between biomarkers and risk assessment presented here provides a preliminary guideline for deciding when biomarker responses likely are hazardous and, therefore, require further investigation. © 2009 SETAC.