- Spectral properties of cell suspensions, individual cells, and extracts of the unicellular green alga Parietochloris incisa (Reisigl) Shin Watan. grown under low light were studied. Long‐term nitrogen (N) deprivation resulted in a decrease of chloroplast volume, appearance of numerous large cytoplasmic oil bodies, and the deposition of triacylglycerols with a high proportion of arachidonic acid. Chlorophylls a and b underwent a synchronous decline, whereas carotenoids (Car) showed a relative increase. Simultaneously, significant qualitative changes in the spectral properties of P. incisa individual cells, cell extracts, and cell suspensions were observed. To a large extent, the spectral changes observed in cell suspension could be attributed to a decrease in overall pigment content, leading to a gradual weakening of the so‐called package effect and accumulation of additional amounts of Car over chl, most probably, in oil bodies. Several optical characteristics of cell suspensions could serve as sensitive indicators of N‐deficiency in P. incisa. Furthermore, the absorption ratios, A476/A676 and A650/A676, showed close correlations with the Car‐to‐chl ratio and relative arachidonic acid (AA) content, respectively. The latter makes it possible to suggest that the increase in AA percentage in P. incisa proceeds in parallel with a decrease in cell chl content, accounting for the weakening of the package effect. N‐replenishment resulted in complete recovery of cell optical properties. The possible significance of the changes in cell ultrastructure, pigments, lipids, and optical properties is discussed with special reference to the ability of algae to adapt to and survive under conditions of long‐term nutrient deficiency.