The prebiotic potential of native chicory inulin was assessed in the Simulator of the Human Intestinal Microbial Ecosystem (SHIME) by monitoring microbial community from the colon compartments, its metabolic activity and community structure. Inulin addition selected for a higher short chain fatty acid production with shifts towards propionic and butyric acid. Conventional culture-based techniques and PCR-denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis analysis showed no remarkable changes in the overall microbial community from the colon compartments of the SHIME, whereas selective effects were seen for lactic acid bacteria. Quantitative PCR with bifidobacteria-specific primers revealed a significant increase with more than 1 log CFU ml(-1) from the proximal to distal colon, in contrast to culture-based techniques, which only showed a minor bifidogenic effect in the ascending colon. Our results indicate that inulin purports prebiotic effects from the proximal to distal colon and that real-time PCR is a more precise technique to detect differences in bifidobacterial populations whereas conventional culturing techniques are much more variable.