1. The cellular proteins of Butyrivibrio fibrisolvens, Lactobacillus casei, Megasphaera elsdenii, Selenomonas ruminantium and Streptococcus bovis were labelled by growth in the presence of L-[14C]leucine, and the breakdown of labelled protein was measured in incubations of these bacteria with rumen fluid to which unlabelled 5 mM-L-leucine was added. The rate of protein breakdown was estimated from the rate of release of radioactivity into acid-soluble material. 2. Protein breakdown occurred at different rates in different species. The mean rates for B. fibrisolvens, L. casei, M. elsdenii, Sel. ruminantium and Str. bovis were 28.6, 18.1, 17.7, 10.5 and 5.3%/h respectively in samples of strained rumen fluid (SRF) with different protozoal populations. Rates of 3%/h or less were found in SRF from ciliate-free sheep or in faunated SRF from which protozoa had been removed by centrifugation. Further removal of mixed rumen bacteria had little effect. Suspensions of washed protozoa degraded bacterial protein at rates which were of the same order as those found in SRF. 3. The rate of breakdown of bacterial protein in different samples of SRF tended to increase as the numbers of small entodiniomorphid protozoa increased. The numbers of larger entodiniomorphs and holotrichs had no obvious influence on this rate. 4. Autoclaved and u.v.-treated bacteria were generally no different from live bacteria in their susceptibility to breakdown in SRF from faunated sheep, indicating that endogenous protein turnover was not a significant cause of bacterial protein catabolism. 5. The rate of bacterial protein breakdown was unrelated to the proteolytic activity of SRF. 6. It was concluded that predation by small protozoa is by far the most important cause of bacterial protein turnover in the rumen, with autolysis, other lytic factors and endogenous proteolysis being of minor importance.