Summary Biological indicators have been widely used in Australian riverine systems to assess the effectiveness of past and current management. The short generation time, sessile nature, responsiveness to environmental conditions and the availability of sound, quantitative methodologies make biofilms suitable as a monitoring tool in these systems. This paper describes biofilm structure, function and development through the processes of succession and disturbance. Biofilms are assemblages of algae, fungi and microorganisms which cover rocks, wood and sediments in aquatic systems. A review of biofilm collection and processing techniques using relevant Australian and international studies reveals a large literature on many structural and functional biofilm attributes. Studies using structural attributes such as biomass and diversity to examine water quality impacts and invertebrate grazers dominate the Australian literature. More recently, studies have used functional biofilm attributes such as metabolism and foodweb interactions. Monitoring programs that combine structural and functional biofilm attributes will allow the best assessment of impacts in riverine systems. Biofilm functional parameters provide an integrated, long-term measure of ecosystem function, with structural attributes such as biomass and diversity allowing historical comparisons with previously recorded datasets. Monitoring programs such as these with a well-founded scientific base and defined management outcomes will expand our knowledge of river function and contribute to the restoration of Australian river systems.