In the presence of different selection pressures, particularly pH and electron donor concentration, indigenous microbial associations which catabolize selected petroleum hydrocarbon components (benzene, toluene and o-, m- and p-xylene (BTX)) were enriched and isolated from a petroleum hydrocarbon-contaminated KwaZulu-Natal sandy soil. Electron microscopy revealed that, numerically, rods constituted the majority of the populations responsible for BTX catabolism. Molecular techniques (polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and 16S rDNA fingerprinting by denaturing-gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE)) were employed to explore the diversities and analyze the structures of the isolated microbial associations. Pearson product-moment correlation indicated that the different, but chemically similar, petroleum hydrocarbon molecules, effected the isolation of different associations. However, some similar numerically-dominant bands characterized the associations. A 30% similarity was evident between the m- and o-xylene-catabolizing associations regardless of the molecule concentration and the enrichment pH. PCR-DGGE was also used to complement conventional culture-based microbiological procedures for environmental parameter optimization. Band pattern differences indicated profile variations of the isolated associations which possibly accounted for the growth rate changes recorded in response to pH and temperature perturbations.