We analysed variation in microbial community richness and function in soils associated with a fire-induced vegetation successional gradient from low maquis (shrubland) through tall maquis to rainforest on metal-rich ultramafic soils at Mt Do, New Caledonia. Random amplified polymorphic DNA fingerprinting was used to determine the extent of genetic relatedness among the microbial communities and indicated that the open and tall maquis microbial communities were more similar to each other than they were to the rainforest community. Sole-source carbon utilization indicated variation in the microbial communities, again with greater diversity in rainforest soils. Plate counts showed that both rainforest and maquis soils contained bacteria that can grow in the presence of up to 20 mmol L-1 nickel and 10 mmol L-1 chromium. Understanding microbial community composition and dynamics in these ultramafic soils may lead to a better understanding of the processes facilitating vegetation succession from shrubland to forest on these high-metal substrates, and of approaches to successful revegetation following mining for metals including nickel, chromium and cobalt.