A temporal temperature gradient gel electrophoresis (TTGE) method was developed to determine the diversity of methanogen populations in the rumen. Tests with amplicons from genomic DNA from 12 cultured methanogens showed single bands for all strains, with only two showing apparently comigrating bands. Fingerprints of methanogen populations were analyzed from DNA extracted from rumen contents from two cattle and four sheep grazing pasture. For one sheep, dilution cultures selective for methanogens were grown and the culturable methanogens in each successive dilution examined by TTGE. A total of 66 methanogen sequences were retrieved from bands in fingerprints and analyzed to reveal the presence of methanogens belonging to the Methanobacteriales, the Methanosarcinales, and to an uncultured archaeal lineage. Twenty-four sequences were most similar to Methanobrevibacter ruminantium, five to Methanobrevibacter smithii, four to Methanosphaera stadtmanae, and for three, the nearest match was Methanimicrococcus blatticola. The remaining 30 sequences did not cluster with sequences from cultured archaea, but when combined with published novel sequences from clone libraries formed a monophyletic lineage within the Euryarchaeota, which contained two previously unrecognized clusters. The TTGE bands from this lineage showed that the uncultured methanogens had significant population densities in each of the six rumen samples examined. In cultures of dilutions from one rumen sample, TTGE examination revealed these methanogens at a level of at least 10(5)g(-1). Band intensities from low-dilution cultures indicated that these methanogens were present at similar densities to Methanobrevibacter ruminantium-like methanogens, the sole culturable methanogens in high dilutions (10(6)-10(-10) g(-1)). It is suggested that the uncultured methanogens together with Methanobrevibacter spp. may be the predominant methanogens in the rumen. The TTGE method presented in this article provides a new opportunity for characterizing methanogen populations in the rumen microbial ecosystem.