Abstract The internal 16S/23S rDNA ( rrs/ rrl) internal spacer region 1 (ITS1) of 54 Ochrobactrum strains and close relatives was analysed. Separation of ITS1 containing PCR products by gel-electrophoresis, DGGE, cloning and sequencing revealed ITS1 length and sequence heterogeneity. We found up to 5 different allelic ITS1 stretches within a single strain ( Ochrobactrum intermedium LMG 3301 T), and 2–3 different ITS1 alleles in O. tritici. Within ITS1, ITS1c, being part of the conserved double-stranded rrn processing stem dsPS1, produced the most reliable segment tree. The overall ITS1, ITS1c and rrs phylogenetic tree topologies were generally consistent, but there was evidence for horizontal rrn (segment) transfer in O. tritici LMG 2134 (formerly O. anthropi). Good correlations were found between ITS1, ITS1c and rrs sequence similarity and DNA–DNA hybridization values indicating that phylogenetic analysis of ITS1 and ITS1c both can be used to preliminarily deduce the phylogenetic affiliation if HGT was excluded. Strains sharing > 9 6.1 9 % ITS1c ( > 9 5.1 1 % ITS1) similarity fell within a species, and ⩽ 6 8.4 2 % ITS1c ( ⩽ 7 0.3 3 % ITS1) similarity outside a genus. Both ITS1 and ITS1c analysis resolved microdiversity more profoundly than rrs analysis and revealed clades (genomovars) within O. anthropi that were also produced in rep cluster analysis. There was no evidence for habitat-specific ITS1 genomovars within Ochrobactrum species. Diversity of Ochrobactrum was higher in soil than at the rhizoplane below and at the species level. Isolates from soil contained only 1 rrn type whereas isolates from human clinical, animal and rhizoplane specimens could contain more.