The effect of nickel deprivation from the influent of a mesophilic (30 degrees C) methanol fed upflow anaerobic sludge bed (UASB) reactor was investigated by coupling the reactor performance to the evolution of the Methanosarcina population of the bioreactor sludge. The reactor was operated at pH 7.0 and an organic loading rate (OLR) of 5-15 g COD l(-1) day(-1) for 191 days. A clear limitation of the specific methanogenic activity (SMA) on methanol due to the absence of nickel was observed after 129 days of bioreactor operation: the SMA of the sludge in medium with the complete trace metal solution except nickel amounted to 1.164 (+/- 0.167) g CH(4)-COD g VSS(-1) day(-1) compared to 2.027 (+/- 0.111) g CH(4)-COD g VSS(-1) day(-1) in a medium with the complete (including nickel) trace metal solution. The methanol removal efficiency during these 129 days was 99%, no volatile fatty acid (VFA) accumulation was observed and the size of the Methanosarcina population increased compared to the seed sludge. Continuation of the UASB reactor operation with the nickel limited sludge lead to incomplete methanol removal, and thus methanol accumulation in the reactor effluent from day 142 onwards. This methanol accumulation subsequently induced an increase of the acetogenic activity in the UASB reactor on day 160. On day 165, 77% of the methanol fed to the system was converted to acetate and the Methanosarcina population size had substantially decreased. Inclusion of 0.5 mu M Ni (dosed as NiCl(2)) to the influent from day 165 onwards lead to the recovery of the methanol removal efficiency to 99% without VFA accumulation within 2 days of bioreactor operation.