Identification of the functional groups of microorganisms that are predominantly in control of fluxes through, and concentrations in, microbial networks would benefit microbial ecology and environmental biotechnology: the properties of those controlling microorganisms could be studied or monitored specifically or their activity could be modulated in attempts to manipulate the behaviour of such networks. Herein we present ecological control analysis (ECA) as a versatile mathematical framework that allows for the quantification of the control of each functional group in a microbial network on its process rates and concentrations of intermediates. In contrast to current views, we show that rates of flow of matter are not always limited by a single functional group; rather flux control can be distributed over several groups. Also, control over intermediate concentrations is always shared. Because of indirect interactions, through other functional groups, the concentration of an intermediate can also be controlled by functional groups not producing or consuming it. Ecological control analysis is illustrated by a case study on the anaerobic degradation of organic matter, using experimental data obtained from the literature. During anaerobic degradation, fermenting microorganisms interact with terminal electron-accepting microorganisms (e.g. halorespirers, methanogens). The analysis indicates that flux control mainly resides with fermenting microorganisms, but can shift to the terminal electron-accepting microorganisms under less favourable redox conditions. Paradoxically, halorespiring microorganisms do not control the rate of perchloroethylene and trichloroethylene degradation even though they catalyse those processes themselves.