Expression of nifH in 28 surface water samples collected during fall 2007 from six stations in the vicinity of the Cape Verde Islands (north-east Atlantic) was examined using reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR)-based clone libraries and quantitative RT-PCR (RT-qPCR) analysis of seven diazotrophic phylotypes. Biological nitrogen fixation (BNF) rates and nutrient concentrations were determined for these stations, which were selected based on a range in surface chlorophyll concentrations to target a gradient of primary productivity. BNF rates greater than 6?nmolN?l(-1)?h(-1) were measured at two of the near-shore stations where high concentrations of Fe and PO(4)(3-) were also measured. Six hundred and five nifH transcripts were amplified by RT-PCR, of which 76% are described by six operational taxonomic units, including Trichodesmium and the uncultivated UCYN-A, and four non-cyanobacterial diazotrophs that clustered with uncultivated Proteobacteria. Although all five cyanobacterial phylotypes quantified in RT-qPCR assays were detected at different stations in this study, UCYN-A contributed most significantly to the pool of nifH transcripts in both coastal and oligotrophic waters. A comparison of results from RT-PCR clone libraries and RT-qPCR indicated that a ?-proteobacterial phylotype was preferentially amplified in clone libraries, which underscores the need to use caution interpreting clone-library-based nifH studies, especially when considering the importance of uncultivated proteobacterial diazotrophs.