Landscape Ecology

, Volume 33, Issue 9, pp 1461–1480 | Cite as

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

  • Hongkai Gao
  • John L. Sabo
  • Xiaohong ChenEmail author
  • Zhiyong Liu
  • Zongji Yang
  • Ze Ren
  • Min LiuEmail author
Review Article



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.


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.


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.


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).


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



This study was supported by the National Key R&D Program of China (2017YFE0100700), the Key Program of National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 41730646), and the Key Laboratory for Mountain Hazards and Earth Surface Process, Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment, Chinese Academy of Sciences (KLMHESP-17-02). We are grateful for constructive comments from Prof. Hubert H. G. Savenije in Delft University of Technology. We also thank the two anonymous referees, whose valuable review helped improve and clarify this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Key Laboratory of Geographic Information Science (Ministry of Education)East China Normal UniversityShanghaiChina
  2. 2.School of Geographic SciencesEast China Normal UniversityShanghaiChina
  3. 3.Future H2O, Knowledge Enterprise DevelopmentArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  4. 4.Key Laboratory for Mountain Hazards and Earth Surface Process, Institute of Mountain Hazards and EnvironmentChinese Academy of SciencesChengduChina
  5. 5.Guangdong Engineering Technology Research Center of Water Security Regulation and Control for Southern ChinaSun Yat-sen UniversityGuangzhouChina
  6. 6.Flathead Lake Biological StationUniversity of MontanaPolsonUSA

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