We studied the effect of solar radiation on the incorporation of [(sup3)H]thymidine ([(sup3)H]TdR) and [(sup14)C]leucine ([(sup14)C]Leu) by bacterioplankton in a high mountain lake and the northern Adriatic Sea. After short-term exposure (3 to 4 h) of natural bacterial assemblages to sunlight just beneath the surface, the rates of incorporation of [(sup3)H]TdR and [(sup14)C]Leu were reduced at both sites by up to (symbl)70% compared to those for the dark control. Within the solar UV radiation (290 to 400 nm), the inhibition was caused exclusively by UV-A radiation (320 to 400 nm). However, photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) (400 to 700 nm) contributed almost equally to this effect. Experiments with samples from the high mountain lake showed that at a depth of 2.5 m, the inhibition was caused almost exclusively by UV-A radiation. At a depth of 8.5 m, where chlorophyll a concentrations were higher than those in the upper water column, the rates of incorporation of [(sup3)H]TdR were higher in those samples exposed to full sunlight or to UV-A plus PAR than in the dark control. In laboratory experiments with artificial UV light, the incorporation of [(sup3)H]TdR and [(sup14)C]Leu by mixed bacterial lake cultures was also inhibited mainly by UV-A. In contrast, in the presence of the green alga Chlamydomonas geitleri at a chlorophyll a concentration of 2.5 (mu)g liter(sup-1), inhibition by UV radiation was significantly reduced. These results suggest that there may be complex interactions among UV radiation, heterotrophic bacteria, and phytoplankton and their release of extracellular organic carbon. Our findings indicate that the wavelengths which caused the strongest inhibition of TdR and Leu incorporation by bacterioplankton in the water column were in the UV-A range. However, it may be premature to extrapolate this effect to estimates of bacterial production before more precise information on how solar radiation affects the transport of TdR and Leu into the cell is obtained.