To detect effects of Cu pollution, the Cu tolerance of soil bacterial communities extracted from several vineyards located in NW Spain was measured. Bacterial community tolerance was estimated by means of the thymidine (TdR) and leucine (Leu) incorporation techniques using either IC50 values (the log of the metal concentration that reduced incorporation to 50%) or the percentage of activity at one specific Cu concentration (10(-6) mol L-1 )The tolerance measurements by the TdR incorporation technique were similar to those obtained by the Leu incorporation method, indicating that the two methods were equivalent in terms of suitability for detecting the toxicity of Cu to soil bacterial communities. The two tolerance indices considered (IC50 values and percentage of activity) were closely correlated (r = 0.975, P < 0.001), showing that both were equally good in measuring Cu tolerance of the bacterial community. An increased bacterial community tolerance to Cu indicating a pollution effect, was observed in vineyard soils with more than 100 mg Cu kg(-1) soil. Thus, the long-term use of Cu in vineyards has a toxic effect on the soil bacterial community, resulting in an increased tolerance. An effect of increased levels of Cu could not be detected when measuring bacterial community activity, pointing to the increased sensitivity to detect toxicity in field studies using tolerance measurements.