The global decline in biodiversity has generated concern over the consequences for ecosystem functioning and services. Although ecosystem functions driven by soil microorganisms such as plant productivity, decomposition, and nutrient cycling are of particular importance, interrelationships between plant diversity and soil microorganisms are poorly understood. We analyzed the response of soil microorganisms to variations in plant species richness (1-60) and plant functional group richness (1-4) in an experimental grassland system over a period of six years. Major abiotic and biotic factors were considered for exploring the mechanisms responsible for diversity effects. Further, microbial growth characteristics were assessed following the addition of macronutrients. Effects of plant diversity on soil microorganisms were most pronounced in the most diverse plant communities though differences only became established after a time lag of four years. Differences in microbial growth characteristics indicate successional changes from a disturbed (zymogeneous) to an established (autochthonous) microbial community four years after establishment of the experiment. Supporting the singular hypothesis for plant diversity, the results suggest that plant species are unique, each contributing to the functioning of the belowground system. The results reinforce the need for long-term biodiversity experiments to fully appreciate consequences of current biodiversity loss for ecosystem functioning.