We applied nucleic acid-based molecular methods, combined with estimates of biomass (ATP), pigments, and microelectrode measurements of chemical gradients, to map microbial diversity vertically on a millimeter scale in a hypersaline microbial mat from Guerrero Negro, Baja California Sur, Mexico. To identify the constituents of the mat, small-subunit rRNA genes were amplified by PCR from community genomic DNA extracted from layers, cloned, and sequenced. Bacteria dominated the mat and displayed unexpected and unprecedented diversity. The majority (1,336) of the 1,586 bacterial 16S rRNA sequences generated were unique, representing 752 species (> or =97% rRNA sequence identity) in 42 of the main bacterial phyla, including 15 novel candidate phyla. The diversity of the mat samples differentiated according to the chemical milieu defined by concentrations of O(2) and H(2)S. Bacteria of the phylum Chloroflexi formed the majority of the biomass by percentage of bulk rRNA and of clones in rRNA gene libraries. This result contradicts the general belief that cyanobacteria dominate these communities. Although cyanobacteria constituted a large fraction of the biomass in the upper few millimeters (>80% of the total rRNA and photosynthetic pigments), Chloroflexi sequences were conspicuous throughout the mat. Filamentous Chloroflexi bacteria were identified by fluorescence in situ hybridization within the polysaccharide sheaths of the prominent cyanobacterium Microcoleus chthonoplastes, in addition to free living in the mat. The biological complexity of the mat far exceeds that observed in other polysaccharide-rich microbial ecosystems, such as the human and mouse distal guts, and suggests that positive feedbacks exist between chemical complexity and biological diversity. The sequences determined in this study have been submitted to the GenBank database and assigned accession numbers DQ 329539 to DQ 331020, and DQ 397339 to DQ 397511.