1. Phytoplankton, zooplankton and grazing were monitored throughout the growing season for three years (1994–96) in the Belgian section of the River Meuse.

2. A size structure analysis of the algal community shows that there was a summer shift toward larger algal units, following a decline in phytoplankton biomass. These changes occurred after an increase in zooplankton biomass and diversity.

3. Daily filtration rates of grazers ranged from 1 to 113% day–1 and maxima were observed during the summer period. Higher rates tended to correspond with peaks of rotifer biomass. A decline in total phytoplankton biomass within two weeks followed the increase in zooplankton biomass and filtration rate. A rapid biomass recovery was then observed, along with a shift of the algal community toward larger units. When grazing activity was not sustained, due to zooplankton fluctuations, the change in phytoplankton size structure was less marked.

4. We suggest that the composition of the phytoplankton community of large rivers may at times be controlled by grazers. However, such biotic interactions can take place only when physical constraints are reduced, i.e. when discharge is low, and when increased transfer time, high temperature and availability of grazeable algae allow high zooplankton biomass.