Abstract Ruminal methanogens, bacteria and ciliate protozoa of Svalbard reindeer grazing natural pastures in October (late fall) and April (late winter) were investigated using molecular-based approaches. The appetite of the Svalbard reindeer peaks in August (summer) and is at its lowest in March (winter). Microbial numbers, quantified by real-time PCR, did not change significantly between October and April, when food intakes are at similar levels, although the numbers of methanogens tended to be higher in October (P=0.074), and ciliate numbers tended to be higher in April (P=0.055). Similarly, no change was detected in the bacterial and protozoal population composition by rRNA gene-based denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis analysis. Dominant methanogens were identified using a 16S rRNA gene library (97 clones) prepared from pooled PCR products from reindeer on October pasture (n=5). Eleven of the 22 distinct operational taxonomic units (OTUs) generated exhibited a high degree of sequence similarity to methanogens affiliated with Methanobacteriales (eight OTUs), Methanomicrobiales (one OTU) and Methanosarcinales (two OTUs). The remaining 11 OTUs (53% of the clones) were associated with a cluster of uncultivated ruminal archaea. This study has provided important insights into the rumen microbiome of a high-arctic herbivorous animal living under harsh nutritional conditions, and evidence suggesting that host type affects the population size of ruminal methanogens.