Anaerobic digesters rely on the diversity and distribution of parallel metabolic pathways mediated by complex syntrophic microbial communities to maintain robust and optimal performance. Using mesophilic swine waste digesters, we experimented with increased ammonia loading to induce a shift from aceticlastic methanogenesis to an alternative acetate-consuming pathway of syntrophic acetate oxidation. In comparison with control digesters, we observed shifts in bacterial 16S rRNA gene content and in functional gene repertoires over the course of the digesters' 3-year operating period. During the first year, under identical startup conditions, all bioreactors mirrored each other closely in terms of bacterial phylotype content, phylogenetic structure, and evenness. When we perturbed the digesters by increasing the ammonia concentration or temperature, the distribution of bacterial phylotypes became more uneven, followed by a return to more even communities once syntrophic acetate oxidation had allowed the experimental bioreactors to regain stable operation. The emergence of syntrophic acetate oxidation coincided with a partial shift from aceticlastic to hydrogenotrophic methanogens. Our 16S rRNA gene analysis also revealed that acetatefed enrichment experiments resulted in communities that did not represent the bioreactor community. Analysis of shotgun sequencing of community DNA suggests that syntrophic acetate oxidation was carried out by a heterogeneous community rather than by a specific keystone population with representatives of enriched cultures with this metabolic capacity.