Several diazotrophic species of Azoarcus spp. occur as endophytes in the pioneer plant Kallar grass. The purpose of this study was to screen Asian wild rice and cultivated Oryza sativa varieties for natural association with these endophytes. Populations of culturable diazotrophs in surface-sterilized roots were characterized by 16S rDNA sequence analysis, and Azoarcus species were identified by genomic fingerprints. A. indigens and Azoarcus sp. group C were detected only rarely, whereas Azoarcus sp. group D occurred frequently in samples of flooded plants: in 75% of wild rice, 80% of land races of O. sativa from Nepal and 33% of modern cultivars from Nepal and Italy. The putatively endophytic populations of diazotrophs differed with the rice genotype. The diversity of cultured diazotrophs was significantly lower in wild rice species than in modern cultivars. In Oryza officinalis (from Nepal) and O. minuta (from the Philippines), Azoarcus sp. group D were the predominant diazotrophic putative endophytes in roots. In contrast, their number was significantly lower in modern cultivars of O. sativa, whereas numbers and diversity of other diazotrophs, such as Azospirillum spp., Klebsiella sp., Sphingomonas paucimobilis, Burkholderia sp. and Azorhizobium caulinodans, were increased. In land races of O. sativa, the diazotrophic diversity was equally high; however, Azoarcus sp. was found in high apparent numbers. Similar differences in populations were also observed in a culture-independent approach comparing a wild rice (O. officinalis) and a modern-type O. sativa plant: in clone libraries of root-associated nitrogenase (nifH) gene fragments, the diazotrophic diversity was lower in the wild rice species. New lineages of nifH genes were detected, e.g. one deeply branching cluster within the anf (iron) nitrogenases. Our studies demonstrate that the natural host range of Azoarcus spp. extends to rice, wild rice species and old varieties being preferred over modern cultivars.