Rumen microbiota have important metabolic functions for the host animal. This study aimed at characterizing changes in rumen microbial abundances and fermentation profiles using a severe subacute ruminal acidosis (SARA) in vitro model, and to evaluate a potential modulatory role of plant derived alkaloids (PDA), containing quaternary benzophenanthridine and protopine alkaloids, of which sanguinarine and chelerythrine were the major bioactive compounds. Induction of severe SARA strongly affected the rumen microbial composition and fermentation variables without suppressing the abundance of total bacteria. Protozoa and fungi were more sensitive to the low ruminal pH condition than bacteria. Induction of severe SARA clearly depressed degradation of fiber (P < 0.001), which came along with a decreased relative abundance of fibrolytic Ruminococcus albus and Fibrobacter succinogenes (P < 0.001). Under severe SARA conditions, the genus Prevotella, Lactobacillus group, Megasphaera elsdenii, and Entodinium spp. (P < 0.001) were more abundant, whereas Ruminobacter amylophilus was less abundant. SARA largely suppressed methane formation (-70%, P < 0.001), although total methanogenic 16S rRNA gene abundance was not affected. According to principal component analysis, Methanobrevibacter spp. correlated to methane concentration. Addition of PDA modulated ruminal fermentation under normal conditions such as enhanced (P < 0.05) concentration of total SCFA, propionate and valerate, and increased (P < 0.05) degradation of crude protein compared with the unsupplemented control diet. Our results indicate strong shifts in the microbial community during severe SARA compared to normal conditions. Supplementation of PDA positively modulates ruminal fermentation under normal ruminal pH conditions.