Previous studies of hot (>80 degrees C) microbial ecosystems have primarily relied on the study of pure cultures or analysis of 16S rDNA sequences. In order to gain more information on anaerobic metabolism by natural communities in hot environments, sediments were collected from a shallow marine hydrothermal vent system in Baia di Levante, Vulcano, Italy and incubated under strict anaerobic conditions at 90 degrees C. Sulphate reduction was the predominant terminal electron-accepting process in the sediments. The addition of molybdate inhibited sulphate reduction in the sediments and resulted in a linear accumulation of acetate and hydrogen over time. [U-14C]- acetate was completely oxidized to 14CO2, and the addition of molybdate inhibited 14CO2 production by 60%. [U-14C]-glucose was oxidized to 14CO2, and this was inhibited when molybdate was added. When the pool sizes of short-chain fatty acids were artificially increased, radiolabel from [U-14C]-glucose accumulated in the acetate pool. L-[U-14C]-glutamate, [ring-14C]-benzoate and [U-14C]-palmitate were also anaerobically oxidized to 14CO2 in the sediments, but molybdate had little effect on the oxidation of these compounds. These results demonstrate that natural microbial communities living in a hot, microbial ecosystem can oxidize acetate and a range of other organic electron donors under sulphate-reducing conditions and suggest that acetate is an important extracellular intermediate in the anaerobic degradation of organic matter in hot microbial ecosystems.