The influence of parameter changes on the bacterial community of a laboratory-scale anaerobic digester fed with glucose was investigated using a culture-independent approach based on single-strand conformation polymorphism (SSCP) analysis of total 16S rDNA and 16S rRNA amplification products. With the digester operating at steady state, the 16S rDNA SSCP patterns of the bacterial community showed eight peaks, whereas the 16S rRNA patterns showed six peaks with a very prominent one corresponding to a Spirochaetes-related bacterium. An acidic shock at pH 6 caused an increase in the 16S rRNA level of two Clostridium-related bacteria. After a 1 week starvation period, the major bacteria present reverted to a basal 16S rRNA level proportional to their 16S rDNA level. Starvation revealed the presence of a previously undetected peak whose corresponding sequence was deeply branched into the low G+C Gram-positive bacteria phylum. Twenty-four hours after a spiked addition to the starved digester community of starch, glucose, lactate or sulphate, an upsurge in several new 16S rRNA-derived peaks was observed. Thus, the perturbation approach combined with 16S rRNA analysis revealed bacteria that had not been detected through 16S rDNA analysis.