The environmental stimulants and inhibitors of conjugal plasmid transfer in microbial communities are poorly understood. Specifically, it is not known whether exposure to stressors may cause a community to alter its plasmid uptake ability. We assessed whether metals (Cu, Cd, Ni, Zn) and one metalloid (As), at concentrations causing partial growth inhibition, modulate community permissiveness (that is, uptake ability) against a broad-host-range IncP-type plasmid (pKJK5). Cells were extracted from an agricultural soil as recipient community and a cultivation-minimal filter mating assay was conducted with an exogenous E. coli donor strain. The donor hosted a gfp-tagged pKJK5 derivative from which conjugation events could be microscopically quantified and transconjugants isolated and phylogenetically described at high resolution via FACS and 16S rRNA amplicon sequencing. Metal stress consistently decreased plasmid transfer frequencies to the community, while the transconjugal pool richness remained unaffected with OTUs belonging to 12 bacterial phyla. The taxonomic composition of the transconjugal pools was distinct from their respective recipient communities and clustered dependent on the stress type and dose. However, for certain OTUs, stress increased or decreased permissiveness by more than 1000-fold and this response was typically correlated across different metals and doses. The response to some stresses was, in addition, phylogenetically conserved. This is the first demonstration that community permissiveness is sensitive to metal(loid) stress in a manner that is both partially consistent across stressors and phylogenetically conserved.The ISME Journal advance online publication, 2 August 2016; doi:10.1038/ismej.2016.98.