Nitrogen fixing and denitrifying bacteria, respectively, control bulk inputs and outputs of nitrogen in soils, thereby mediating nitrogen-based greenhouse gas emissions in an ecosystem. Molecular techniques were used to evaluate the relative abundances of nitrogen fixing, denitrifying and two numerically dominant ribotypes (based on the > or =97% sequence similarity at the 16S rRNA gene) of bacteria in plots representing 10 agricultural and other land-use practices at the Kellogg biological station long-term ecological research site. Quantification of nitrogen-related functional genes (nitrite reductase, nirS; nitrous oxide reductase, nosZ; and nitrogenase, nifH) as well as two dominant 16S ribotypes (belonging to the phyla Acidobacteria, Thermomicrobia) allowed us to evaluate the hypothesis that microbial community differences are linked to greenhouse gas emissions under different land management practices. Our results suggest that the successional stages of the ecosystem are strongly linked to bacterial functional group abundance, and that the legacy of agricultural practices can be sustained over decades. We also link greenhouse gas emissions with specific compositional responses in the soil bacterial community and assess the use of denitrifying gene abundances as proxies for determining nitrous oxide emissions from soils.