Methane-oxidising bacteria (MOB) play an important role in the reduction of methane emissions from rice agriculture. In rice fields, they are subjected to many environmental and field management parameters, which may have a significant impact on their community composition. To study this in greater detail, the community structure of methano- and methylo-trophic bacteria was investigated in a rice field in northern Italy during the summer 1999 and compared to a microcosm study described previously. We used PCR-based denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis applying 16S rDNA (9α and 10γ) and mxaF (methanol-dehydrogenase) primer sets. In parallel, population size and activity of MOB were determined. This study provides the first comprehensive investigation of different compartments (bulk soil, rhizosphere, rhizoplane, and homogenate) throughout an entire rice-growing season in the field. Lower cell numbers of MOB were detected in the field compared to the microcosms, possibly due to lower CH4 concentrations in the soil pore water. In both studies, growth of MOB occurred predominantly at the root surface (rhizoplane) and in the root (homogenate), whereas cell numbers in bulk soil showed only minor changes throughout the season. Molecular analysis detected only few changes in α-proteobacterial methylotrophs during the season, whereas a higher variability was detected in γ-proteobacteria. Nevertheless, the sequences of electrophoretic bands showed that the diversity in the field study and in the microcosms was comparable. Activity patterns of MOB and the population structure of methylotrophic bacteria agreed well between both studies, even though the detected quantities differed. Extrapolations of microcosm data to the field scale are thus possible, but should be used carefully when concerning quantitative changes.