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What do models tell us about water and sediment connectivity?

Baartman, Jantiene E.M. and Nunes, Joao Pedro and Masselink, Rens and Darboux, Frédéric and Bielders, Charles and Degre, Aurore and Cantreul, Vincent and Cerdan, Olivier and Grangeon, Thomas and Fiener, Peter and Wilken, Florian and Schindewolf, Marcus and Wainwright, John (2020) 'What do models tell us about water and sediment connectivity?', Geomorphology., 367 . p. 107300.


Connectivity has been embraced by the geosciences community as a useful concept to understand and describe hydrological functioning and sediment movement through catchments. Mathematical modelling has been used for decades to quantify and predict erosion and transport of sediments, e.g. in scenarios of land use change or conservation measures. Being intrigued by both models and the connectivity concept, as a group of modellers we aimed at investigating what different models could tell us about connectivity. Therefore, we evaluated the response of contrasted spatially-distributed models to landscape connectivity features and explained the differences based on different model structures. A total of 53 scenarios were built with varying field sizes and orientations, as well as the implementation of soil conservation measures. These scenarios were simulated, for two rainfall intensities, with five event- and process-based water and soil erosion models – EROSION3D, FullSWOF_2D, LandSoil, OpenLISEM and Watersed. Results showed that rainfall amount plays the most important role in determining relative export and connected area of runoff and sediment in all models, indicating that functional aspects of connectivity were more important than structural connectivity. As for the role of structural landscape elements, there was no overall agreement between models regarding the effects of field sizes, crop allocation pattern, and conservation practices; agreement was also low on the spatial patterns of connectivity. This overall disagreement between models was unexpected. The results of this exercise suggest that the correct parameterization of runoff and sediment production and of routing patterns may be an important issue. Thus, incorporating connectivity functions based on routing would help modelling forward. Our results also suggest that structural connectivity indices may not suffice to represent connectivity in this type of catchment (relatively simple and monotonous land cover), and functional connectivity indices should be applied.

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Publisher statement:© 2020 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier B.V. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (
Date accepted:11 June 2020
Date deposited:15 July 2020
Date of first online publication:30 June 2020
Date first made open access:15 July 2020

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