• Nematodes was investigated in a young Acacia crassicapa plantation in southern China
• Both litter addition and root presence enhanced soil nematode abundance
• Litter addition significantly altered soil nematode community composition
• Root presence had a limited impact on nematode trophic group composition
Aboveground litter inputs and root exudates provide basal resources for soil communities, however, their relative contributions to soil food web are still not well understood. Here, we conducted a field manipulative experiment to differentiate the effects of litter inputs and living root on nematode community composition of surface and subsoils in a young Acacia crassicapa plantation in southern China. Our results showed that both litter addition and root presence significantly enhanced soil nematode abundance by 17.3% and 35.3%, respectively. Litter addition altered nematode trophic group composition, decreased fungivore to bacterivore ratio, and enhanced maturity index and structure index, which led to a bacterial-based energy channel and a more complex food web structure. However, root presence had a limited impact on the nematode community composition and ecological indices. Despite nematodes surface assembly, soil depth did not affect nematode trophic group composition or ecological index. Our findings highlight the importance of litter inputs in shaping soil nematode community structure and regulating soil energy channel.