Detailed information on the spatial and temporal variation of soil respiration and controlling factors in different terrestrial ecosystems is critical for understanding the ecosystem carbon budget and the response of soils to global climate change. Despite the importance of this topic, knowledge is limited, and key processes and mechanism need clarification. We reviewed recent research advances in the spatial and temporal variation of soil respiration, driving mechanisms and simulation. Environmental and biotic factors play key roles in regulating the temporal variations of soil respiration. Soil respiration also exhibits high levels of spatial heterogeneity, especially across small spatial scales at different time scales. The heterogeneity of vegetation cover, root distribution, major environmental factors and soil properties contributes to the spatial variation of soil respiration. Biotic factors have also been shown to have an effect on soil respiration. However, empirical models of soil respiration typically use soil temperature, soil moisture and their interaction for large-scale soil respiration estimates. Thus, significant errors may result from these models when changes in other biotic factors can confound the temperature or moisture dependence of soil respiration. Therefore, in order to accurately estimate soil respiration in target ecosystems, we must be able to account for its small-scale spatial variation and address the influence of biotic factors in explaining the variation of soil respiration at different temporal scales. Besides climatic variables, it is necessary to incorporate additional factors (biotic factors or soil properties) into these empirical models for accurately evaluating soil respiration.