A combination of inhibitors and carbon substrates was used to determine the relative contribution of sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB) and fermenting bacteria to nitrogen fixation in a salt marsh sediment and on the roots of Spartina alterniflora. Because a lag period precedes acetylene-reducing activity (ARA) in amended sediments, an extensive analysis was done to be sure that this activity was due to the activation of dormant cells, not simply to cell proliferation. Since ARA was not affected by metabolic inhibitors such as rifampin, nalidixic acid, or methionine sulfoximine, it appeared that cell growth was not responsible for this activity. Instead, dormant cells were being activated by the added energy source. Molybdate inhibition studies with glucose-amended sediment slurries indicated that ARA in the upper 5 cm of the salt marsh was due primarily (70%) to SRB and that below that level (5 to 10 cm) it was due primarily (greater than 90%) to fermenting bacteria. ARA associated with washed roots of intact S. alterniflora plants was not inhibited by molybdate, which indicates that bacteria other than SRB were responsible. However, when the roots were excised from the plant, the activity (per unit of root mass) was 10-fold higher and was severely inhibited by molybdate. While this high activity is probably an artifact, due to the release of oxidizable substrates from the excised roots, it indicates that SRB are present in high numbers on Spartina roots.