The frequency and intensity of droughts worldwide are challenging the conservation of soil organic carbon (SOC) pool. Microbial necromass is a key component of SOC, but how it responds to drought at specific soil depths remains largely unknown. Here, we conducted a 3-year field experiment in a forest plantation to investigate the impacts of drought intensities under three treatments (ambient control [CK], moderate drought [30% throughfall removal], and intensive drought [50% throughfall removal]) on soil microbial necromass pools (i.e., bacterial necromass carbon, fungal necromass carbon, and total microbial necromass carbon). We showed that the effects of drought on microbial necromass depended on microbial groups, soil depth, and drought intensity. While moderate drought increased total (+9.1% ± 3.3%) and fungal (+13.5% ± 4.9%) necromass carbon in the topsoil layer (0-15 cm), intensive drought reduced total (-31.6% ± 3.7%) and fungal (-43.6% ± 4.0%) necromass in the subsoil layer (15-30 cm). In contrast, both drought treatments significantly increased the BNC in the topsoil and subsoil. Our results suggested that the effects of drought on the microbial necromass of the subsoil were more pronounced than those of the topsoil. This study highlights the complex responses of microbial necromass to drought events depending on microbial community structure, drought intensity and soil depth with global implications when forecasting carbon cycling under climate change.

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