Evaluating the influence of landform, surficial geology, and land use on streams using hydrologic simulation modeling

Jesse D. Schomberg, George Host, Lucinda B. Johnson, Carl Richards

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Land use and geology are two important extrinsic factors regulating the structure and function of stream ecosystems. The interactions among these two landscape-scale factors on streams are, however, poorly understood. To determine the effects of these factors on stream flow, sediment, and nutrients, we analyzed 72 ungaged, agricultural watersheds in Minnesota and Michigan using the hydrologic model SWAT (the Soil Water Assessment Tool). The watersheds differed in surficial geology (landform) and land use, but were of similar size, with streams ranging from 2nd to 3rd order. SWAT was developed for use on ungaged basins, but to improve the outputs we used US Geological Survey discharge data from sites near our study watersheds for calibration. We found seasonal and annual differences in flow and nutrient and sediment loading across different land forms and land use types. Watersheds with greater amounts of row-crop agriculture and watersheds dominated by morainal landforms were associated with more sediment and nutrients and greater flow volumes and flashiness. Multivariate analyses identified at least nine landscape variables which were related to nutrients, sediment, and flow, although the responses varied between Minnesota and Michigan. Results also indicated the possibility of a threshold effect for row crop agricultural. Increases in this land use had little additional effect on nutrients or flow when percent row crop exceeds the threshold value. At moderate to high levels of row crop agriculture, watersheds appeared to show greater sensitivity to differences in landform.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)528-540
Number of pages13
JournalAquatic Sciences
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2005

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Dan Breneman, Jeff Schuldt, John Hutchens, Nick Danz, Mark White, Gerald Sjerven, and Tom Hollenhorst provided valuable assistance on statistical design, data collection, analysis, and GIS support. Funding was provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (STAR grant # R825870).


  • Agriculture
  • Geology
  • Land use
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • SWAT
  • Watershed modeling


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