Ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) play an important role in nitrogen cycling in estuaries, but little is known about AOB diversity, distribution and activity in relation to the chemical and physical changes encountered in estuary systems. Although estuarine salinity gradients are well recognized to influence microbial community structure, few studies have examined the influence of varying salinity on the diversity and stability of AOB populations. To investigate these relationships, we collected sediment samples from low-, mid- and high-salinity sites in Plum Island Sound estuary, MA, during spring and late summer over 3 years. Ammonia-oxidizing bacteria distribution and diversity were assessed by terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism (TRFLP) analysis of the ammonia monooxygenase (amoA) gene, and fragments were identified by screening amoA clone libraries constructed from each site. Most striking was the stability and low diversity of the AOB community at the high-salinity site, showing little variability over 3 years. Ammonia-oxidizing bacteria at the high-salinity site were not closely related to any cultured AOB, but were most similar to Nitrosospira spp. Ammonia-oxidizing bacteria at the mid- and low-salinity sites were distributed among Nitrosospira-like sequences and sequences related to Nitrosomonas ureae/oligotropha and Nitrosomonas sp. Nm143. Our study suggests that salinity is a strong environmental control on AOB diversity and distribution in this estuary.