Résumé: Changes in the composition of viral communities were investigated along a salinity gradient and at different times by means of transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and pulsed field gel electrophoresis (PFGE). Samples were collected in fresh (Charente River), estuarine (Charente Estuary), and coastal (Pertuis d'Antioche, French Atlantic coast) waters. Both methods revealed similar patterns in viral community structure with a dominance of small viral particles (capsid and genome size). Viruses with a head size below 65 nm made up 71 +/- 5% of total virus-like particles, and virus-like genomes (VLG) below 100 kb accounted for 89 +/- 9% of total VLG. Despite this apparent stability of virioplankton composition over spatial scale (salinity gradient), the occurrence of large viruses (capsid and genome size) in estuarine and seawater samples indicated the presence of viral populations specific to a geographical location. Temporal changes in the structure (capsid and genome size) of viral communities were more pronounced than those reported at the spatial scale. From January to May 2003, seasonal changes in viral abundance and bacterial production occurred concomitantly with an increase in viral genomic diversity (richness), suggesting that virioplankton composition was strongly linked to changes in microbial activity and/or in the structure of the host communities. Although PFGE and TEM yielded complementary results in the description of virioplankton structures, it seems that the use of PFGE alone should be enough for the monitoring of community changes.