To gain insight into the species richness and phylogeny of the microbial communities associated with sponges in mangroves, we performed an extensive phylogenetic analysis, based on terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism profiling and 16S ribosomal RNA gene sequences, of the 4 sponge species Aplysina fulva, Haliclona hogarthi, Tedania ignis and Ircinia strobilina as well as of ambient seawater. The sponge-associated bacterial communities contained 13 phyla, including Poribacteria and an unclassified group not found in the ambient seawater community, 98% of which comprised Proteobacteria, Cyanobacteria and Bacteroidetes. Although the sponges themselves were phylogenetically distant and bacterial community variation within the host species was observed, microbial phyla such as Proteobacteria, Acidobacteria, Chloroflexi and the unclassified group were consistently observed as the dominant populations within the communities. The sponge-associated bacterial communities resident in the Caribbean Sea mangroves are phylogenetically similar but significantly distinct from communities found in other biogeographical sites such as the deep-water environments of the Caribbean Sea, the South China Sea and Australia. The interspecific variation within the host species and the distinct biogeographical characteristics that the sponge-associated bacteria exhibited indicate that the acquisition, establishment and formation of functional sponge-associated bacterial communities may initially be the product of both vertical and horizontal transmission, and is then shaped by the internal environment created by the sponge species and certain external environmental factors. © Inter-Research 2011.