Fifty-three strains identified as Paenibacillus azotofixans were isolated from the rhizoplane and rhizosphere of different grasses and from soil. To study the diversity within this species, four approaches were used: assessment of homology with a nifKDH probe in hybridization experiments; use of a selected 20-mer primer to produce RAPD profiles and of BOX- PCR to generate genomic fingerprintings; and phenotypic tests using the API50CH system. The API tests performed with the 53 P. azotofixans strains showed that all strains produced acid from 15 carbohydrates; using six other carbohydrates (sorbitol, dulcitol, tagarose, starch, glycogen and D- arabitol), the strains could be divided in five groups of related strains. All strains tested showed homology to Klebsiella pneumoniae nifKDH genes, resulting in 14 different hybridization patterns with this probe. Using RAPD- fingerprinting with one appropriate primer, 23 different amplification patterns were observed. The BOX-PCR approach confirmed the grouping suggested by the RAPD fingerprinting. A comparison of the 53 strains by similarity matrix analysis using the data obtained in all approaches resulted in a phenogram, grouping them into five broad groups at 74% similarity and into 27 subgroups at 94% similarity. At 100% similarity, 31 groups of strains could be formed, indicating a high degree of diversity among the strains tested. Overall, the diversity was independent from the origin of strains, since a variety of different groups was isolated from each plant studied. However, some clusters were dominant in wheat and sugarcane samples. The results indicated that the methods used here are sensitive indicators of diversity among the strains studied and can be applied as efficient and reliable means for further ecological and biogeographical studies.