Optical response of a rare earth (RE)-doped SiO2 layer is known to deteriorate markedly at room temperature due to RE clustering. The key challenge is therefore to probe the ongoing processes at the microscopic level and the subsequent impact on the luminescence properties with increasing RE concentration. Here, we report how the Er electroluminescence in a metal-oxide-semiconductor structure has been affected by increasing Er content. Our results indicate that the Er oxide clustering is anticipated by the formation of Si-based oxygen-deficiency centers during postimplantation annealing and leads to a strong quenching of the short-wavelength (350-500 nm) Er electroluminescence. © 2009 American Institute of Physics.