Background and aims Soil CO2 emissions can dominate gaseous carbon losses from forested wetlands (swamps), especially those positioned in coastal environments. Understanding the varied roles of hydroperiod, salinity, temperature, and root productivity on soil respiration is important in discerning how carbon balances may shift as freshwater swamps retreat inland with sea-level rise and salinity incursion, and convert to mixed communities with marsh plants. Methods We exposed soil mesocosms to combinations of permanent flooding, tide, and salinity, and tracked soil respiration over 2 1/2 growing seasons. We also related these measurements to rates from field sites along the lower Savannah River, Georgia, USA. Soil temperature and root productivity were assessed simultaneously for both experiments. Results Soil respiration from mesocosms (22.7-1678.2 mg CO2 m-2 h-1) differed significantly among treatments during four of the seven sampling intervals, where permanently flooded treatments contributed to low rates of soil respiration and tidally flooded treatments sometimes contributed to higher rates. Permanent flooding reduced the overall capacity for soil respiration as soils warmed. Salinity did reduce soil respiration at times in tidal treatments, indicating that salinity may affect the amount of CO2 respired with tide more strongly than under permanent flooding. However, soil respiration related greatest to root biomass (mesocosm) and standing root length (field); any stress reducing root productivity (incl. salinity and permanent flooding) therefore reduces soil respiration. Conclusions Overall, we hypothesized a stronger, direct role for salinity on soil respiration, and found that salinity effects were being masked by varied capacities for increases in respiration with soil warming as dictated by hydrology, and the indirect influence that salinity can have on plant productivity.