The relation between environmental factors and the presence of ammonia-oxidising bacteria (AOB), and its consequences for the N transformation rates were investigated in nine Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) forest soils. In general, the diversity in AOB appears to be strikingly low compared to other ecosystems. Nitrosospira cluster 2, as determined by temporal temperature gradient electrophoresis and sequencing, was the only sequence cluster detected in the five soils with high nitrification rates. In the four soils with low nitrification rates, AOB-like sequences could not be detected. Differences in nitrification rates between the forest soils correlated to soil C/N ratio (or total N) and atmospheric N deposition © 2005 Federation of European Microbiological Societies. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.