The response of total (DNA-based analysis) and active (RNA-based analysis) bacterial communities to a pCO2 increase under field conditions was assessed using two perennial grasses: the nitrophilic Lolium perenne and the oligonitrophilic Molinia coerulea. PCR- and reverse transcriptase-PCR denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis analysis of 16S rRNA genes generated contrasting profiles. The pCO2 increase influenced mainly the active and root-associated component of the bacterial community. Bacterial groups responsive to the pCO2 increase were identified by sequencing of corresponding denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis bands. About 50% of retrieved sequences were affiliated to Proteobacteria. Our data suggest that Actinobacteria in soil and Myxococcales (Deltaproteobacteria) in root are stimulated under elevated pCO2. © 2005 Federation of European Microbiological Societies. Published by Blackwell Publishing Ltd.