Little is known about biophysical controls on soil respiration in California's Sierra Nevada old-growth, mixed-conifer forests. Using portable and automated soil respiration sampling units, we measured soil respiration rate (SRR) in three dominant patch types: closed canopy (CC), ceanothus-dominated patches (CECO), and open canopy (OC). SRR varied significantly among the patch types, ranging from 2.0 to 4.5 μmol m-2 s-1 and from 0.9 to 2.9 μmol m-2 s-1 during the 1999 and 2000 measuring periods, respectively, with the maximum in CECO and the minimum in OC. Multiple peaks of seasonal SRR were functions of soil temperature and moisture dynamics. The relationship between SRR and soil temperature switched from a positive to a negative correlation when soil moisture dropped from saturation to drought. Time lag, as a function of soil moisture, was included in an exponential model to assess the effects of soil moisture on SRR in this seasonal water-stressed ecosystem. The total soil C flux summed by an area-weighted average across all three patch types was 660 ± 163 g C m-2 from May to Oct. 2000. These results may be applicable to other water-stressed forests in the Mediterranean climate Lone, and have implications for the conservation of soil carbon.