The structure and variability of ciliate protozoal communities in the rumens of domestic New Zealand ruminants feeding on different diets was investigated. The relative abundance of ciliates compared with bacteria was similar across all samples. However, molecular fingerprinting of communities showed ruminant-specific differences in species composition. Community compositions of cattle were significantly influenced by diet. In contrast, diet effects in deer and sheep were weaker than the animal-to-animal variation. Cloning and sequencing of almost-full-length 18S rRNA genes from representative samples revealed that New Zealand ruminants were colonized by at least nine genera of ciliates and allowed the assignment of samples to two distinct community types. Cattle contained A-type communities, with most sequences closely related to those of the genera Polyplastron and Ostracodinium. Deer and sheep (with one exception) harboured B-type communities, with the majority of sequences belonging to the genera Epidinium and Eudiplodinium. It has been suggested that species composition of ciliate communities may impact methane formation in ruminants, with the B-type producing more methane. Therefore, manipulation of ciliate communities may be a means of mitigating methane emissions from grazing sheep and deer in New Zealand.