The acidification of mesophilic (30 degrees C) methanol-fed upflow anaerobic sludge bed (UASB) reactors induced by cobalt deprivation from the influent was investigated by coupling the reactor performance (pH 7.0; organic loading rate 4.5 g COD . L-1 . d(-1)) to the microbial ecology of the bioreactor sludge. The latter was investigated by specific methanogenic activity (SMA) measurements and fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) to quantify the abundance of key organisms over time. This study hypothesized that Under cobalt limiting conditions, the SMA on methanol of the sludge gradually decreases, which ultimately results in methanol accumulation in the reactor effluent. Once the methanol accumulation surpasses a threshold value (about 8.5 mM for the sludge investigated), reactor acidification occurs because acetogens outcompete methylothrophic methanogens at these elevated methanol concentrations. Methanogens present in granular sludge at the time of the acidification do not use methanol as the direct substrate and are unable to degrade acetate. Methylotrophic/acetoclastic methanogenic activity was found to be lost within 10 days of reactor operation, coinciding with the disappearance of the Methanosarcina population. The loss of SMA on methanol can thus be used as an accurate parameter to predict reactor acidification of methanol-fed UASB reactors operating under cobalt limiting conditions.