The development of pyrene catabolic activity was assessed in two similar soils (pasture and woodland) amended with 100 mg pyrene kg(-1). In the pasture and woodland soils, significant mineralisation of C-14-pyrene was observed after 8 and 76 weeks soil-pyrene contact times, respectively. In both soils, there were significant decreases (P < 0.05) in the lag times and significant increases (P < 0.05) in the maximum rates and extents of C-14-pyrene mineralised with increasing soil-pyrene contact time. A microbial inoculum was added to the woodland soil to assess if the previously added, but undegraded C-14-pyrene was bioavailable at 16 and 24 weeks. This resulted in the immediate mineralisation of the previously added C-14-pyrene, indicating that it was bioavailable but that the microbial community in the woodland soil had not developed the ability to mineralise pyrene. The relative contributions of the indigenous microflora to C-14-pyrene mineralisation were assessed by the addition of selective inhibitors, with bacteria seeming to be responsible for the mineralisation of pyrene in both soils. It is suggested that the rate of pyrene transfer from the soil to the microorganisms was lower in the woodland soil due to its higher organic matter content. (C) 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.