Quantitative changes in methanogenic community structures, associated with performance data, were investigated in three anaerobic batch digesters treating synthetic glucose medium, whey permeate, and liquefied sewage sludge. All digesters were initially seeded with anaerobic sludge obtained from a local municipal wastewater treatment plant. Dynamics of methanogenic populations were monitored, at order and family levels, using real-time PCR based on the 16S rRNA gene. The molecular monitoring revealed that, in each digester, the quantitative structure of methanogenic community varied continuously over treatment time and the variation corresponded well to the changes in chemical profiles. Biphasic production of methane, associated with successive increases in aceticlastic (mainly Methanosarcinaceae) and hydrogenotrophic (mainly Methanomicrobiales) methanogenic groups, was observed in each digester. This corresponded to the diauxic utilization of acetate and longer-chain volatile fatty acids (C-3-C-6), mainly propionate. Additionally, the non-metric multidimensional scaling (NMDS) analysis of the quantification results demonstrated that the community shift patterns in three digesters were totally different from each other. Considering that the operating conditions in all trials were identical except substrates, the differences in quantitative shift profiles were suggested to be due to the different substrate compositions. This implied that the composition of wastewater could affect the evolution of quantitative methanogenic community structure in an anaerobic process. Overall, our results suggested that more attention to quantitative as well as qualitative approaches on microbial communities is needed for fundamental understanding of anaerobic processes, particularly under dynamic or transitional conditions. (C) 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.