Frequent human activities and climate change in the karst region of southwest China since the 1950s have led to the investigation of response of runoff to climate and catchment properties. Runoff coefficient (Rc) as an expression variable of the catchment response to rainfall is important to describe runoff dynamics and to estimate available streamflow for utilization. In this study, the equations of Rc associated with its attributors of climate condition and catchment property were derived using the Budyko framework. The equations were used to estimate relationship between the Rc and the attributors in the karst catchments in Guizhou province of southwest China. Analysis in the selected 23 karst catchments demonstrates that the spatial distribution of Rc is dominated by the catchment properties, such as the catchment properties of geology, slope and land use and land cover, rather than climate condition of drought index. Correlation analysis indicates that the catchment with a large slope usually has a high value of Rc, and a large proportion of carbonate rock in a catchment reduces Rc in the study area. Temporal increasing trend of Rc during 1961–2000 was found for most catchments in the study area. This increasing trend was primarily resulted from changes of catchment properties, e.g. deforestation in large areas of Guizhou province during the 1950s–1980s. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.