Understanding the ecological processes that regulate microbial community assembly in different habitats is critical to predict microbial responses to anthropogenic disturbances and environmental changes. Rubber (Hevea brasiliensis) and Eucalypt (Eucalyptus urophylla) plantations (thereafter RP and EP) are rapidly established at the expense of forests in tropical China, greatly affecting tropical soils and their processes. However, the assembly processes of soil microbial communities after forest conversions remain unclear. We investigated soil microbial communities’ attributes and quantified the portion of deterministic assembly variation in two RP (a 3- and a 5-year-old) and two EP (a 2- and a 4-year-old) in Southern China. Shannon and Faith’s Phylogenetic α-diversity of both bacterial and fungal communities were higher in RP than in EP, regardless of plantation age or soil depth (0–50 cm). Bacterial and fungal community structure was significantly different among the four plantations. The dominant microbial taxa in RP closely tracked the availability of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (K) while those in EP were closely related to the high total K content. Microbial co-occurrence networks in RP were more modular than those in EP, as governed by more keystone taxa that were strongly dependent on soil available nutrients. Environmental filtering imposed by soil nutrients heterogeneity contributed a considerable portion (33–47%) of bacterial assembly variation in RP, but much less (8–14%) in EP. The relative contribution of environmental selection on fungal assembly was also greater in RP than in EP. Our findings suggest that in RP clear microbial community patterns exist with respect to soil nutrients, whereas in EP microbial community assembly patterns are more stochastic and variable. The large variation in soil microbial community assembly patterns in EP could lead to fragile and unstable microbial-soil relationships, which may be one factor driving soil degradation in EP.
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