14C-labelled straw was mixed with soils collected from seven coniferous forests located on a climatic gradient in Western Europe ranging from boreal to Mediterranean conditions. The soils were incubated in the laboratory at 4°, 10°, 16°, 23° and 30 °C with constant moisture over 550 days. The temperature coefficient (Q10) for straw carbon mineralization decreased with increasing incubation temperatures. This was a characteristic of all the soils with a difference of two Q10 units between the 4–10° and the 23− 30 °C temperature ranges. It was also found that the magnitude of the temperature response function was related to the period of soil incubation. Initial temperature responses of microbial communities were different to those shown after a long period of laboratory incubation and may have reflected shifts in microbial species composition in response to changes in the temperature regime. The rapid exhaustion of the labile fractions of the decomposing material at higher temperatures could also lead to underestimation of the temperature sensitivity of soils unless estimated for carbon pools of similar qualities. Finally, the thermal optima for the organic soil horizons (Of and Oh) were lower than 30 °C even after 550 days of incubation. It was concluded that these responses could not be attributed to microbial physiological adaptations, but rather to the rates at which recalcitrant microbial secondary products were formed at higher temperatures. The implication of these variable temperature responses of soil materials is discussed in relation to modelling potential effects of global warming.