BACKGROUND: There is increasing evidence that volatile organic compounds play essential roles in communication and competition between soil microorganisms. Here we assessed volatile-mediated interactions of a synthetic microbial community in a model system that mimics the natural conditions in the heterogeneous soil environment along the rhizosphere. Phylogenetic different soil bacterial isolates (Burkholderia sp., Dyella sp., Janthinobacterium sp., Pseudomonas sp., and Paenibacillus sp.) were inoculated as mixtures or monoculture in organic-poor, sandy soil containing artificial root exudates and the volatile profile and growth were analyzed. Additionally, a two-compartment system was used to test if volatiles produced by inter-specific interactions in the rhizosphere can stimulate the activity of starving bacteria in the surrounding, nutrient-depleted soil. The obtained results revealed that both microbial interactions and shifts in microbial community composition had a strong effect on the volatile emission. Interestingly, the presence of a slow-growing, low abundant Paenibacillus strain significantly affected the volatile production by the other abundant members of the bacterial community as well as the growth of the interacting strains. Furthermore, volatiles released by mixtures of root-exudates consuming bacteria stimulated the activity and growth of starved bacteria. Besides growth stimulation, also an inhibition in growth was observed for starving bacteria exposed to microbial volatiles. The current work suggests that volatiles produced during microbial interactions in the rhizosphere have a significant long distance effect on microorganisms in the surrounding, nutrient-depleted soil.