The speed of recovery of cell suspensions and biofilm populations of the ammonia oxidizer Nitrosomonas europaea, following starvation was determined. Stationary-phase cells, washed and resuspended in ammoniumfree inorganic medium, were starved for periods of up to 42 days, after which the medium was supplemented with ammonium and subsequent growth was monitored by measuring nitrite concentration changes. Cultures exhibited a lag phase prior to exponential nitrite production, which increased from 8.72 h (no starvation) to 153 h after starvation for 42 days. Biofilm populations of N. europaea colonizing sand or soil particles in continuous-flow, fixed column reactors were starved by continuous supply of ammonium-free medium. Following resupply of ammonium, starved biofilms exhibited no lag phase prior to nitrite production, even after starvation for 43.2 days, although there was evidence of cell loss during starvation. Biofilm formation will therefore provide a significant ecological advantage for ammonia oxidizers in natural environments in which the substrate supply is intermittent. Cell density-dependent phenomena in a number of gram-negative bacteria are mediated by N-acyl homoserine lactones (AHL), including N-(3-oxohexanoyl)-L-homoserine lactone (OHHL). Addition of both ammonium and OHHL to cell suspensions starved for 28 days decreased the lag phase in a concentration-dependent manner from 53.4 h to a minimum of 10.8 h. AHL production by N. europaea was detected by using a luxR-luxAB AHL reporter system. The results suggest that rapid recovery of high-density biofilm populations may be due to production and accumulation of OHHL to levels not possible in relatively low-density cell suspensions.