We have studied the activity and composition of several geochemically significant physiological groups of bacteria in more than twenty alkaline salt lakes of the north-east Mongolia steppe with water salinity from 3 to 390 g l-1 and pH values ranging from 9.0 to 10.6. Active and diverse microbial communities have been found in most of the lakes. The methanotrophic bacteria were represented by the Type I members. Among the culturable forms of sulfur-oxidizing bacteria obligately chemolithoautotrophic and haloalkaliphilic representatives of the genera Thioalkalimicrobium and Thioalkalivibrio were detected in the sediments at high numbers (up to 106 cells ml-1). The largest population of anaerobic phototrophic bacteria was represented by purple sulfur bacteria of the Ectothiorhodospiraceae family. Salinity was the key factor in determining the activity and the composition of the microbial communities. The most diverse and active prokaryotic populations, including aerobic and anaerobic phototrophic, methanogenic, methanotrophic, sulfur-oxidizing, sulfate-reducing and nitrifying bacteria, were found in lakes with salinity less than 60 g l-1. In hypersaline lakes with a salinity >100 g l-1, the sulfur cycle remained active due to the activity of extremely halotolerant and alkaliphilic sulfur bacteria, while other important functional groups responsible for nitrification and methane oxidation processes were not detected. Overall, the prokaryotic communities of the Mongolian alkaline salt lakes represent an interesting new example of a diverse community of haloalkaliphilic bacteria well adopted to a broad salinity range.