We investigated the role of Caenorhabditis elegans rad-51 during meiotic prophase. We showed that rad-51 mutant worms are viable, have no defects in meiotic homology recognition and synapsis but exhibit abnormal chromosomal morphology and univalent formation at diakinesis. During meiosis RAD-51 becomes localized to distinct foci in nuclei of the transition zone of the gonad and is most abundant in nuclei at late zygotene/early pachytene. Foci then gradually disappear from chromosomes and no foci are observed in late pachytene. RAD-51 localization requires the recombination genes spo-11 and mre-11 as well as chk-2, which is necessary for homology recognition and presynaptic alignment. Mutational analysis with synapsis- and recombination-defective strains, as well as the analysis of strains bearing heterozygous translocation chromosomes, suggests that presynaptic alignment may be required for RAD-51 focus formation, whereas homologous synaptonemal complex formation is required to remove RAD-51 foci.