The aim of this review is to provide an overview of the complex interactions between dietary fibre and the resident microbial community in the human gut. The microbiota influences both health maintenance and disease development. In the large intestine, the microbiota plays a crucial role in the degradation of dietary carbohydrates that remain undigested in the upper gut (non-digestible carbohydrates or fibre). Dietary fibre contains a variety of different types of carbohydrates, and its breakdown is facilitated by many different microbial enzymes. Some microbes, termed generalists, are able to degrade a range of different carbohydrates, whereas others are more specialised. Furthermore, the physicochemical characteristics of dietary fibre, such as whether it enters the gut in soluble or insoluble form, also likely influence which microbes can degrade it. A complex nutritional network therefore exists comprising primary degraders able to attack complex fibre and cross feeders that benefit from fibre breakdown intermediates or fermentation products. This leads predominately to the generation of the short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) acetate, propionate and butyrate, which exert various effects on host physiology, including the supply of energy, influencing glucose and lipid metabolism and anti-carcinogenic and anti-inflammatory actions. In order to effectively modulate the gut microbiota through diet, there is a need to better understand the complex competitive and cooperative interactions between gut microbes in dietary fibre breakdown, as well as how gut environmental factors and the physicochemical state of fibre originating from different types of diets influence microbial metabolism and ecology in the gut.