Phosphorus (P) plays a fundamental role in the physiology and biochemistry of all living things. Recent evidence indicates that organisms in the oceans can break down and use P forms in different oxidation states (e.g.,+5,+3,+1, and-3); however, information is lacking for organisms from soil and sediment. The Cuatro Ciénegas Basin (CCB), Mexico, is an oligotrophic ecosystem with acute P limitation, providing a great opportunity to assess the various strategies that bacteria from soil and sediment use to obtain P. We measured the activities in sediment and soil of different exoenzymes involved in P recycling and evaluated 1,163 bacterial isolates (mainly Bacillus spp.) for their ability to use six different P substrates. DNA turned out to be a preferred substrate, comparable to a more bioavailable P source, potassium phosphate. Phosphodiesterase activity, required for DNA degradation, was observed consistently in the sampled-soil and sediment communities. A capability to use phosphite (PO3 3-) and calcium phosphate was observed mainly in sediment isolates. Phosphonates were used at a lower frequency by both soil and sediment isolates, and phosphonatase activity was detected only in soil communities. Our results revealed that soil and sediment bacteria are able to break down and use P forms in different oxidation states and contribute to ecosystem P cycling. Different strategies for P utilization were distributed between and within the different taxonomic lineages analyzed, suggesting a dynamic movement of P utilization traits among bacteria in microbial communities.