Landscape heterogeneity and hydrological processes: a review of landscape-based hydrological models

Hongkai Gao, John L. Sabo, Xiaohong Chen, Zhiyong Liu, Zongji Yang, Ze Ren, Min Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


Introduction: Landscapes and water are closely linked. Water shapes landscapes, and landscape heterogeneity in turn determines water storage, partitioning, and movement. Understanding hydrological processes from an ecological perspective is an exciting and fast-growing field of research. Objectives: The motivation of this paper is to review advances in the interaction between landscape heterogeneity and hydrological processes, and propose a framework for synthesizing and moving forward. Methods: Landscape heterogeneity, mainly topography and land cover, has been widely incorporated into existing hydrological models, but not in a systematic way. Topography, as one of the most important landscape traits, has been extensively used in hydrological models, but mostly to drive water flow downhill. Land cover heterogeneity, represented mostly by vegetation, is usually linked with evaporation and transpiration rather than runoff generation. Moreover, the proportion of different land cover types is usually the only index involved in hydrological models, leaving the influence of vegetation patterns and structure on hydrologic connectivity still largely unexplored. Additionally, moving from “what heterogeneity exists” to “why-type” questions probably offers us new insights into the nexus of landscape and water. Conclusions: We believe that the principles of self-organization and co-evolution of landscape features shed light on the possibility to infer subsurface heterogeneity from a few observable landscapes, allowing us to simplify complexity to a few quantifiable metrics, and utilizing these metrics in models with sufficient heterogeneity but limited complexity. Landscape-based models can also be beneficial to improve our ability of prediction in ungauged basins and prediction in a changing environment (Panta Rhei, everything flows).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1461-1480
Number of pages20
JournalLandscape Ecology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2018


  • Catchment hydrology
  • Ecohydrology
  • Landscape ecology
  • Landscape patterns
  • Landscape-based hydrological modelling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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