Seasonal precipitation regime plays a vital role in regulating nutrient dynamics in seasonally dry tropical forests. Present evidence suggests that not only wet season precipitation is increasing in the tropics of South China, but also that the wet season is occurring later. However, it is unclear how nutrient dynamics will respond to the projected precipitation regime changes. We assessed the impacts of altered seasonal precipitation on soil net N mineralization in a secondary tropical forest. Since 2013, by reducing throughfall and/or irrigating experimental plots, we delayed the wet season by two months from April–September to June–November (DW treatment) or increased annual precipitation by 25% in July and August (WW treatment). We measured soil net N mineralization rates and assessed soil microbial communities in January, April, August and November in 2015 and 2017. We found that a wetter wet season did not significantly affect soil microbes or net N mineralization rates, even in the mid-wet season (August) when soil water content in the WW treatment increased significantly. By contrast, a delayed wet season enhanced soil microbial biomass and altered microbial community structure, resulting in a two-fold increase in net N mineralization rates relative to controls in the early dry season (November). Structural equation modeling showed that the changes in net N mineralization during the early dry season were associated with altered soil microbial communities, dissolved organic N, and litterfall, which were all affected by enhanced soil water content. Our findings suggest that a delayed wet season could have a greater impact on N dynamics than increased precipitation during the wet season. Changes in the seasonal timing of rainfall might therefore influence the functioning of seasonally dry tropical forests.

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