Microbial community structure in natural environments has remained largely unexplored yet is generally considered to be complex. It is shown here that in a Mid-Atlantic Ridge hydrothermal vent habitat, where food webs depend on prokaryotic primary production, the surface microbial community consists largely of only one bacterial phylogenetic type (phylotype) as indicated by the dominance of a single 16S rRNA sequence. The main part of its population occurs as an ectosymbiont on the dominant animals, the shrimp Rimicaris exoculata, where it grows as a monoculture within the carapace and on the extremities. However, the same bacteria are also the major microbial component of the free-living substrate community. Phylogenetically, this type forms a distinct branch within the epsilon-Proteobacteria. This is different from all previously studied chemoautotrophic endo- and ectosymbioses from hydrothermal vents and other sulfidic habitats in which all the bacterial members cluster within the gamma-Proteobacteria.