Background: Anaerobic digestion is an alternative bioprocess used to treat effluents containing toxic compounds such as phenol and p-cresol. Selection of an adequate sludge as inoculum containing an adapted microbial consortium is a relevant factor to improve the removal of these pollutants. The objective of this study is to identify the key microorganisms involved in the anaerobic digestion of phenol and p-cresol and elucidate the relevance of the bamA gene abundance (a marker gene for aromatic degraders) in the process, in order to establish new strategies for inocula selection and improve the system's performance. Results: Successive batch anaerobic digestion of phenol and p-cresol was performed using granular or suspended sludge. Granular sludge in comparison to suspended sludge showed higher degradation rates both for phenol (11.3 ± 0.7 vs 8.1 ± 1.1 mg l-1 d-1) and p-cresol (7.8 ± 0.4 vs 3.7 ± 1.0 mg l-1 d-1). After three and four re-feedings of phenol and p-cresol, respectively, the microbial structure from both sludges was clearly different from the original sludges. Anaerobic digestion of phenol and p-cresol generated an abundance increase in Syntrophorhabdus genus and bamA gene, together with hydrogenotrophic and aceticlastic archaea. Analysis of results indicates that differences in methanogenic pathways and levels of Syntrophorhabdus and bamA gene in the inocula, could be the causes of dissimilar degradation rates between each sludge. Conclusions: Syntrophorhabdus and bamA gene play relevant roles in anaerobic degradation of phenolics. Estimation of these components could serve as a fast screening tool to find the most acclimatized sludge to efficiently degrade mono-aromatic compounds. How to cite: Franchi O, Rosenkranz F, Chamy R. Key microbial populations involved in anaerobic degradation of phenol and p-cresol using different inocula. Electron J Biotechnol 2018;35. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ejbt.2018.08.002.