Dissimilatory manganese reduction dominates anaerobic carbon oxidation in marine sediments with high manganese oxide concentrations, but the microorganisms responsible for this process are largely unknown. In this study, the acetate-utilizing manganese-reducing microbiota in geographically well-separated, manganese oxide-rich sediments from Gullmar Fjord (Sweden), Skagerrak (Norway) and Ulleung Basin (Korea) were analyzed by 16S rRNA-stable isotope probing (SIP). Manganese reduction was the prevailing terminal electron-accepting process in anoxic incubations of surface sediments, and even the addition of acetate stimulated neither iron nor sulfate reduction. The three geographically distinct sediments harbored surprisingly similar communities of acetate-utilizing manganese-reducing bacteria: 16S rRNA of members of the genera Colwellia and Arcobacter and of novel genera within the Oceanospirillaceae and Alteromonadales were detected in heavy RNA-SIP fractions from these three sediments. Most probable number (MPN) analysis yielded up to 10(6) acetate-utilizing manganese-reducing cells cm(-3) in Gullmar Fjord sediment. A 16S rRNA gene clone library that was established from the highest MPN dilutions was dominated by sequences of Colwellia and Arcobacter species and members of the Oceanospirillaceae, supporting the obtained RNA-SIP results. In conclusion, these findings strongly suggest that (i) acetate-dependent manganese reduction in manganese oxide-rich sediments is catalyzed by members of taxa (Arcobacter, Colwellia and Oceanospirillaceae) previously not known to possess this physiological function, (ii) similar acetate-utilizing manganese reducers thrive in geographically distinct regions and (iii) the identified manganese reducers differ greatly from the extensively explored iron reducers in marine sediments.