A soil sterilization-reinoculation approach was used to manipulate soil microbial diversity and to assess the effect of the diversity of the ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) on the recovery of the nitrifying community to metal stress (zinc). Gamma-irradiated soil was inoculated with 13 different combinations of up to 22 different soils collected worldwide to create varying degrees of AOB diversity. Two months after inoculation, AOB amoA DGGE based diversity (weighted richness) varied more than 10-fold among the 13 treatments, the largest value observed where the number of inocula had been largest. Subsequently, the 13 treatments were either or not amended with ZnCl2. Initially, Zn amendment completely inhibited nitrification. After 6 months of Zn exposure, recovery of the potential nitrification activity in the Zn amended soils ranged from <10 % to >100 % of the potential nitrification activity in the corresponding non-amended soils. This recovery was neither related to DGGE-based indices of AOB diversity nor to the AOB abundance assessed 2 months after inoculation (p > 0.05). However, recovery was significantly related (r = 0.75) to the potential nitrification rate before Zn amendment and only weakly to the number of soil inocula used in the treatments (r = 0.46). The lack of clear effects of AOB diversity on recovery may be related to an inherently sufficient diversity and functional redundancy of AOB communities in soil. Our data indicate that potential microbial activity can be a significant factor in recovery.