Electron microscopy (EM), denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) and 16S rDNA sequencing were used to examine the structure and diversity of microbial mats present in an acid-sulphate-chloride (pH 3.1) thermal (58-62 degrees C) spring in Norris Basin, Yellowstone National Park, WY, USA, exhibiting rapid rates of arsenite oxidation. Initial visual assessments, scanning EM and geochemical measurements revealed the presence of three distinct mat types. Analysis of 16S rDNA fragments with DGGE confirmed the presence of different bacterial and archaeal communities within these zones. Changes in the microbial community appeared to coincide with arsenite oxidation activity. Phylogenetic analysis of 1400 bp 16S rDNA sequences revealed that clone libraries prepared from both arsenic redox active and inactive bacterial communities were dominated by sequences phylogenetically related to Hydrogenobacter acidophilus and Desulphurella sp. The appearance of archaeal 16S rDNA sequences coincided with the start of arsenite oxidation, and sequences were obtained showing affiliation with both Crenarchaeota and Euryarchaeota. The majority of archaeal sequences were most similar to sequences obtained from marine hydrothermal vents and other acidic hot springs, although the level of similarity was typically just 90%. Arsenite oxidation in this system may result from the activities of these unknown archaeal taxa and/or the previously unreported arsenic redox activity of H. acidophilus- or Desulphurella-like organisms. If the latter, arsenite oxidation must be inhibited in the initial high-sulphide zone of the spring, where no change in the distribution of arsenite versus arsenate was observed.