Field data have shown that soil nitrifying communities gradually adapt to zinc (Zn) after a single contamination event with reported adaptation times exceeding 1 year. It was hypothesized that this relatively slow adaptation relates to the restricted microbial diversity and low growth rate of the soil nitrifying community. This hypothesis was tested experimentally by recording adaptation rates under varying nitrification activities (assumed to affect growth rates) and by monitoring shifts in community composition. Soils were spiked at various Zn concentrations (0-4000 mg Zn kg-1) and two NH4+-N doses (N1, N2) were applied to stimulate growth. A control series receiving no extra NH4+-N was also included. Soils were incubated in pots under field conditions with free drainage. The pore water Zn concentration at which nitrification was halved (EC50, mg Zn l-1) did not change significantly during 12 months in the control series (without NH4+-N applications), although nitrification recovered after 12 months at the highest Zn dose only. The EC50 after 12 months incubation increased by more than a factor 10 with increasing NH4+-N dose (p<0.05) illustrating that increased activity accelerates adaptation to Zn. Zinc tolerance tests confirmed the role of Zn exposure, time and NH4+-N dose on adaptation. Zinc tolerance development was ascribed to the AOB community since the AOB/AOA ratio (AOB=ammonia oxidizing bacteria; AOA=ammonia oxidizing archaea) increased from 0.4 in the control to 1.4 in the most tolerant community. Moreover, the AOB amoA DGGE profile changed during Zn adaptation whereas the AOA amoA DGGE profile remained unaffected. These data confirm the slow but pronounced adaptation of nitrifiers to Zn contamination. We showed that adaptation to Zn was accelerated at higher activity and was associated with a shift in soil AOB community that gradually dominated the community.