In spite of considerable insights into the microbial diversity of marine sponges, quantitative information on microbial abundances and community composition remains scarce. Here, we established qPCR assays for the specific quantification of four bacterial phyla of representative sponge symbionts as well as the kingdoms Eubacteria and Archaea. We could show that the 16S rRNA gene numbers of Archaea, Chloroflexi, and the candidate phylum Poribacteria were 4-6 orders of magnitude higher in high microbial abundance (HMA) than in low microbial abundance (LMA) sponges and that actinobacterial 16S rRNA gene numbers were 1-2 orders higher in HMA over LMA sponges, while those for Cyanobacteria were stable between HMA and LMA sponges. Fluorescence in situ hybridization of Aplysina aerophoba tissue sections confirmed the numerical dominance of Chloroflexi, which was followed by Poribacteria. Archaeal and actinobacterial cells were detected in much lower numbers. By use of fluorescence-activated cell sorting as a primer- and probe-independent approach, the dominance of Chloroflexi, Proteobacteria, and Poribacteria in A. aerophoba was confirmed. Our study provides new quantitative insights into the microbiology of sponges and contributes to a better understanding of the HMA/LMA dichotomy. The authors quantified sponge symbionts in eight sponge species from three different locations by real time PCR targetting 16S rRNA genes. Additionally, FISH was performed and diversity and abundance of singularized microbial symbionts from Aplysina aerophoba was determined for a comprehensive quantification work. © 2014 Federation of European Microbiological Societies.