The aim of this study was to determine if arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) colonisation influences rhizosphere bacteria differently depending on plant species. Thus, the effect of AM colonisation (Glomus intraradices) on rhizosphere bacteria of subterranean clover, cucumber, leek and maize was studied. The bacterial activity was measured as thymidine or leucine incorporation and bacterial numbers as colony forming units and acridine orange direct counts. The phospholipid fatty acid (PLFA) pattern was used to characterise the bacterial community structure and was compared with the community substrate utilisation pattern using Biolog. The bacterial activity and bacterial densities differed between the rhizospheres of the plant species. AM colonisation had a low impact on bacterial activity, but affected bacterial numbers differently depending on the plant species. Only small effects of AM colonisation were detected with the PLFA technique, and no effects were seen with Biolog, while similar effects of the plant species were found for these techniques. Thus, the plant species had greater effects on the bacterial community in the rhizosphere than AM colonisation and the effect of AM differed between plant species. (C) 2002 Federation of European Microbiological Societies. Published by Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.