Several studies have shown that soil biotic communities from organically managed fields are more diverse and exhibit higher activity levels compared to conventionally managed fields. The impact of these different soil communities on plant productivity and the provision of soil ecosystem services are, however, still unclear. Here, we test the effects of soil inoculation from each of three organic and three conventional maize fields on maize productivity and nutrient loss during leaching events induced by simulated rain. In particular, we examine whether differences in productivity and nutrient loss are related to the abundance and species composition of arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi. We hypothesized that soil biota from organically managed fields would improve maize growth and reduce nutrient leaching significantly more than those from conventionally managed fields. In contrast to our hypothesis, we found that plant productivity was negatively affected by soil inoculation, and this effect was stronger with inoculum from organic fields. Plant productivity was inversely correlated with AMF abundance, suggesting that enhanced carbon allocation to AMF is at least in part responsible for plant growth reduction under our experimental conditions. However, soil inoculation did alter the ecological functioning of the system by reducing phosphorus leaching losses after simulated rain. Moreover, these leaching losses were lower with increased hyphal density and were related with abundance of particular AMF types, suggesting that abundance of AMF and their community composition may be useful indicators of phosphorus leaching losses. The results demonstrate that soil communities from different agricultural fields vary in their impact on plant productivity and nutrient leaching losses. The results further indicate that there is a potential tradeoff between positive effects of soil communities on sustainability and negative effects on crop productivity. © 2011 The Author(s).