Dietary incorporation of fermentable, indigestible fructans may be of benefit to gastrointestinal health by providing short-chain fatty acids, stimulating the proliferation of bifidobacteria or lactobacilli and suppressing potential pathogenic organisms in the gut. We tested the hypothesis that the effects of fructans on caecal, colonic and faecal short-chain fatty acid concentration and microflora composition depend on their chain length. Germ-free rats associated with a human faecal flora were randomly assigned to one of four treatments as follows: (1) commercial standard diet as a control (Con); (2) Con+50 g short-chain oligofructose/kg (OF); (3) C+50 g long-chain inulin/kg (lcIN); or (4) Con+50 g OF-lcIN/kg (Mix OF-lcIN). Changes in bacterial population groups in response to feeding these diets were investigated with 16S rRNA-targeted probes applied in in situ hybridization. Mix OF-lcIN- and lcIN-containing diets resulted in larger numbers of caecal, colonic and faecal bacteria of the Clostridium coccoides-Eubacterium rectale cluster than Con (10.6 and 10.3 v. 9.5 log10/g wet wt), whereas OF alone did not affect this bacterial group in caecum, colon or faeces. A bifidogenic effect was only observed in the colon and faeces of OF-treated rats. More lactobacilli were found in caecal and colonic contents of Mix OF-lcIN-fed rats and in faeces of OF-fed rats compared with Con. Mix OF-lcIN and OF led to significantly smaller numbers of caecal, colonic and faecal bacteria belonging to the Clostridium histolyticum and C. lituseburense groups than Con (6.8 and 6.9 v. 7.9 log10/g wet wt). Counts of total bacteria, Bacteroides-Prevotella and Enterobacteriaceae did not differ between the groups. OF and/or lcIN-containing diets significantly increased the caecal and colonic concentration of butyrate and its relative molar proportion. Only lcIN-containing diets resulted in a higher faecal concentration of butyrate than Con. Higher molar proportions of faecal butyrate were observed with all diets that had been supplemented with OF and/or lcIN. Stimulation of butyrate production could be of interest for the prevention of ulcerative colitis and colon cancer.