Land usage is a strong determinant of soil microbial community composition and activity, which in turn determine organic matter decomposition rates and decomposition products in soils. Microbial communities in permanently flooded wetlands, such as those created by wetland restoration on Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta islands in California, function under restricted aeration conditions that result in increasing anaerobiosis with depth. It was hypothesized that the change from agricultural management to permanently flooded wetland would alter microbial community composition, increase the amount and reactivity of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) compounds in Delta waters; and have a predominant impact on microbial communities as compared with the effects of other environmental factors including soil type and agricultural management. Based on phospholipid fatty acid (PLFA) analysis, active microbial communities of the restored wetlands were changed significantly from those of the agricultural fields, and wetland microbial communities varied widely with soil depth. The relative abundance of monounsaturated fatty acids decreased with increasing soil depth in both wetland and agricultural profiles, whereas branched fatty acids were relatively more abundant at all soil depths in wetlands as compared to agricultural fields. Decomposition conditions were linked to DOC quantity and quality using fatty acid functional groups to conclude that restricted aeration conditions found in the wetlands were strongly related to production of reactive carbon compounds. But current vegetation may have had an equally important role in determining DOC quality in restored wetlands. In a larger scale analysis, that included data from wetland and agricultural sites on Delta islands and data from two previous studies from the Sacramento Valley, an aeration gradient was defined as the predominant determinant of active microbial communities across soil types and land usage. ?? 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.