Arid and semi-arid ecosystems are often characterized by vegetation patchiness and variable availability of resources. Phospholipid fatty acid (PLFA) and 16S rRNA gene fragment analyses were used to compare the bulk soil microbial community structure at patchy arid and semi-arid landscapes. Multivariate analyses of the PLFA data and the 16S rRNA gene fragments were in agreement with each other, suggesting that the differences between bulk soil microbial communities were primarily related to shrub vs intershrub patches, irrespective of climatic or site differences. This suggests that the mere presence of a living shrub is the dominant driving factor for the differential adaptation of the microbial communities. Lipid markers suggested as indicators of Gram-positive bacteria were higher in soils under the shrub canopies, while markers suggested as indicators of cyanobacteria and anaerobic bacteria were elevated in the intershrub soils. Secondary differences between soil microbial communities were associated with intershrub characteristics and to a lesser extent with the shrub species. This study provides an insight into the multifaceted nature of the factors that shape the microbial community structure in patchy desert landscapes. It further suggests that these drivers not only act in concert but also in a way that is dependent on the aridity level.