The influence of the basic growth parameters (growth temperature, V/III ratio and growth rate) on the surface morphology of AIN grown by molecular beam epitaxy on sapphire (0 0 0 1) substrate is reported. Optimized-growth conditions lead to a significant decrease of the surface roughness. The use of such surfaces as template to grow GaN quantum dots is shown to improve their size dispersion. (C) 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.