This experiment was designed to study three determinant factors in decomposition patterns of soil organic matter (SOM): temperature, water and carbon (C) inputs. The study combined field measurements with soil lab incubations and ends with a modelling framework based on the results obtained. Soil respiration was periodically measured at an oak savanna woodland and a ponderosa pine plantation. Intact soils cores were collected at both ecosystems, including soils with most labile C burnt off, soils with some labile C gone and soils with fresh inputs of labile C. Two treatments, dry-field condition and field capacity, were applied to an incubation that lasted 111 days. Short-term temperature changes were applied to the soils periodically to quantify temperature responses. This was done to prevent confounding results associated with different pools of C that would result by exposing treatments chronically to different temperature regimes. This paper discusses the role of the above-defined environmental factors on the variability of soil C dynamics. At the seasonal scale, temperature and water were, respectively, the main limiting factors controlling soil CO2 efflux for the ponderosa pine and the oak savanna ecosystems. Spatial and seasonal variations in plant activity (root respiration and exudates production) exerted a strong influence over the seasonal and spatial variation of soil metabolic activity. Mean residence times of bulk SOM were significantly lower at the Nitrogen (N)-rich deciduous savanna than at the N-limited evergreen dominated pine ecosystem. At shorter time scales (daily), SOM decomposition was controlled primarily by temperature during wet periods and by the combined effect of water and temperature during dry periods. Secondary control was provided by the presence/absence of plant derived C inputs (exudation). Further analyses of SOM decomposition suggest that factors such as changes in the decomposer community, stress-induced changes in the metabolic activity of decomposers or SOM stabilization patterns remain unresolved, but should also be considered in future SOM decomposition studies. Observations and confounding factors associated with SOM decomposition patterns and its temperature sensitivity are summarized in the modeling framework.