While the influence of climate, vegetation, management and abiotic site factors on total carbon budgets and turn-over is intensively assessed, the influences of these ecosystem properties on the chemical complexity of soil organic matter (SOM) remains poorly understood. This study ddresses the chemical composition of NaOH-extracted SOM from maritime temperate forest sites in Flanders (Belgium) by pyrolysis-CC/MS. The studied forests were chosen based on dominant tree species (Anus sylvestris, Fagus sylvatica, Quercus robur and Populus spp.), soil texture and soil-moisture conditions. Differences in extractable-SOM pyrolysis products were correlated to site variables including dominant tree species, management of the woody biomass, site history, soil properties, total carbon stocks and indicators for microbial activity. Despite of a typical high intercorrelation between these site variables, the influence of the dominant tree species is prominent. The extractable-SOM composition is strongly correlated to litter quality and available nutrients. In nutrient-poor forests with low litter quality, the decomposition of relatively recalcitrant compounds (i.e. short and mid-chain alkanes/alkenes and aromatic compounds) appears hampered, causing a relative accumulation of these compounds in the soil. However, if substrate quality is favorable, no accumulations of recalcitrant compounds were observed, not even under high soil-moisture conditions. Former heathland vegetation still had a profound influence on extractable-SOM chemistry of young pine forests after a minimum of 60 years. (C) 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.