Pea plants were grown in gamma-irradiated soil in pots with and without addition of the AM fungus Glomus intraradices at sufficient N and limiting P. Depending on the growth phase of the plant presence of AM had negative or positive effect on rhizosphere activity. Before flowering during nutrient acquisition AM decreased rhizosphere respiration and number of protozoa but did not affect bacterial number suggesting top-down regulation of bacterial number by protozoan grazing. In contrast, during flowering and pod formation AM stimulated rhizosphere respiration and the negative effect on protozoa decreased. AM also affected the composition of the rhizosphere bacterial community as revealed from DNA analysis (DGGE). With or without mycorrhiza, rhizosphere respiration was P-limited on very young roots, not nutrient limited at more mature roots and C-limited at withering. This suggests changes in the rhizosphere community during plant growth also supported by changes in the bacteria (DGGE). (C) 2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.