The ability of subsurface microbial communities to adapt to the biodegradation of xenobiotic compounds was examined in aquifer solids samples from a pristine aquifer. An increase in the rates of mineralization of radiolabeled substrates with exposure was used as an indication of adaptation. For some compounds, such as chlorobenzene and 1,2,4-trichlorobenzene, slight mineralization was observed but no adaptation was apparent during incubations of over 8 months. Other compounds demonstrated three patterns of response. For m-cresol, m-aminophenol, and aniline intermediate rates of biodegradation and a linear increase in the percent mineralized with time were observed. Phenol, p-chlorophenol, and ethylene dibromide were rapidly metabolized initially, with a nonlinear increase in the percent mineralized with time, indicating that the community was alreody adapted to the biodegradation of these compounds. Only p-nitrophenol demonstrated a typical adaptation response. In different samples of soil from the same layer in the aquifer, the adaptation period to p-nitrophenol varied from a few days to as long as 6 weeks.