The characteristics of natural soils often vary from those of artificial soil (e.g. OECD), which may lead to substantial differences in the bioavailability of test substances. The aim of this investigation was to characterise the development of phenanthrene catabolism in both natural and artificial soils with varying total organic carbon (TOC) content after 1, 14, 42 and 84 d soil-phenanthrene contact time. Indigenous catabolic activity was measured via the addition of C-14-phenanthrene using the respirometric soil slurry assay. Notably, the lag phases, fastest rates and total extents of C-14-phenanthrene degradation were relatively comparable in soils with similar TOC content after 1 d contact time. However, natural soils generally exhibited significantly shorter lag phases, faster rates and higher extents of mineralisation, than their artificial counterparts after 42 and 84 d contact time. Such findings suggest that the extrapolation of results from artificial soils to real/natural soils may not be straightforward. (C) 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.