To examine the relationship between plant species composition and microbial community diversity and structure, we carried out a molecular analysis of microbial community structure and diversity in two field experiments. In the first experiment, we examined bacterial community structure in bulk and rhizosphere soils in fields exposed to different plant diversity treatments, via a 16S rRNA gene clone library approach. Clear differences were observed between bacterial communities of the bulk soil and the rhizosphere, with the latter containing lower bacterial diversity. The second experiment focused on the influence of 12 different native grassland plant species on bacterial community size and structure in the rhizosphere, as well as the structure of Acidobacteria and Verrucomicrobia community structures. In general, bacterial and phylum-specific quantitative PCR and PCR-denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis revealed only weak influences of plant species on rhizosphere communities. Thus, although plants did exert an influence on microbial species composition and diversity, these interactions were not specific and selective enough to lead to major impacts of vegetation composition and plant species on below-ground microbial communities. © 2008 Federation of European Microbiological Societies.