Traditional studies of microbial communities are incomplete because of the inability to identify and quantify all contributing populations. In the present study, we directly determine the abundance and distribution of sulfate-reducing bacterial populations in a microbial mat community by using hybridization probes complementary to the 16S-like rRNAs of major phylogenetic groups. Most of the major groups were found in this single community, distributed for the most part in nonoverlapping depth intervals of the mat. The reflection of the phylogenetic structure in the community structure suggests that those species making up the major phylogenetic groups perform specific interrelated metabolic functions in the community. Comparison of population profiles to previously observed rates of sulfate reduction suggests there are additional populations of sulfate-reducing bacteria both within the photooxic zone and deeper in the mat.