We manipulated the number of saprotrophic fungi in either a complex multi-resource substratum (sterilized forest soil), or a single-resource substratum (powdered cellulose). The substrates were inoculated with five common species of soil fungi in all possible combinations (from monocultures to five species in combination). In both substrates, the rate of organic matter decomposition was positively associated with species richness. The effect of fungal diversity was much stronger in the uniform single-resource substrate (r2 = 0.455, P < 0.0001) than in soil (r2 = 0.154, P < 0.0001). The results document that species richness of microbial decomposers strongly affects decomposition processes, at least at the species poor end of the diversity gradient. Both, ‘sampling effect’ and ‘species complementarity effect’ contributed to the community response with the latter being much more pronounced in uniform substrate than in soil. This indicates that facilitative interactions are more important than resource partitioning for positive effects of species richness.