Bacterial mortality has been investigated in freshwater (River Seine) and in marine (North Sea) systems using a method based on following the disappearance of radioactivity from the DNA of assemblages of bacteria previously labeled with tritiated thymidine. Measurement of bacterial mortality of autochthonous and various types of fecal bacteria allowed direct comparisons between their respective first-order mortality rates. Mortality rates obtained for the different types of bacteria in the River Seine were, respectively, 7.9-33.9 x 10(-3)h(-1) for Escherichia coli, 12.2-29.2 x 10(-3)h(-1) for S. faecium and 7.0-18.3 x 10(-3)h(-1) for the autochthonous bacteria. In the Belgian coastal waters, these rates were 4.6-27.3 x 10(-3)h(-1) for E. coli, 6.0-22.0 x 10(-3)h(-1) for S. typhimurium, 10.0-18.9 x 10(-3)h(-1) for S. faecium and 1.0-13.9 x 10(-3)h(-1) for autochthonous bacteria. In both environments, the overall mortality rates of autochthonous and the different fecal bacteria were in the same order of magnitude and overall mortality rates of E. coli were on average about twice as high for autochthonous bacteria. Grazing by protozooplankton was the dominant process of mortality for fecal and autochthonous bacteria in both environments. Except in a few situations, grazing by protozooplankton was responsible for more than 90% of the overall mortality rate of fecal and autochthonous bacteria in the river and in the coastal area.