We characterized the richness of benthic cyanobacteria and diatoms in a salina system using traditional and molecular biological methods. After determining the different morphotypes and 16S rRNA genes present in various localities within this hypersaline system, an analysis of the increase of organismal richness as a function of numbers of samples considered was carried out. We found that the spatial scales of sampling yielding significant increases in cumulative richness were those at which significant variations in environmental parameters (salinity, vertical microgradients) are known to exist, indicating that the presence of environmental gradients contributes to increased biodiversity. Additionally, we could use this type of cumulative analysis for the estimation, through asymptotic extrapolation, of the total richness of oxygenic phototrophs present in the entire salina system, and for the estimation of the average degree of dissemination of community members within the system. We found interesting differences between analyses based on morphotypes or 16S rRNA genes. The cumulative number of rRNA gene sequences exceeded that of morphotypes by more than two-fold. This indicates that many organisms possessing distinct 16S rRNA gene sequences could not be distinguished on the basis of morphology. Thus, some of the apparently widely distributed morphotypes may in fact conceal several ecologically independent genotypes.