Evidence for anaerobic ammonium oxidation in a paddy field was obtained in Southern China using an isotope-pairing technique, quantitative PCR assays and 16S rRNA gene clone libraries, along with nutrient profiles of soil cores. A paddy field with a high load of slurry manure as fertilizer was selected for this study and was shown to contain a high amount of ammonium (6.2-178.8 mg kg(-1)). The anaerobic oxidation of ammonium (anammox) rates in this paddy soil ranged between 0.5 and 2.9 nmol N per gram of soil per hour in different depths of the soil core, and the specific cellular anammox activity observed in batch tests ranged from 2.9 to 21 fmol per cell per day. Anammox contributed 4-37% to soil N2 production, the remainder being due to denitrification. The 16S rRNA gene sequences of surface soil were closely related to the anammox bacteria 'Kuenenia', 'Anammoxoglobus' and 'Jettenia'. Most of the anammox 16S rRNA genes retrieved from the deeper soil were affiliated to 'Brocadia'. The retrieval of mainly bacterial amoA sequences in the upper part of the paddy soil indicated that nitrifying bacteria may be the major source of nitrite for anammox bacteria in the cultivated horizon. In the deeper oxygen-limited parts, only archaeal amoA sequences were found, indicating that archaea may produce nitrite in this part of the soil. It is estimated that a total loss of 76 g N m(-2) per year is linked to anammox in the paddy field.