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In semi-arid environments, the characteristics of the land surface determine how rainfall is transformed into surface runoff and influences how this runoff moves from the hillslopes into river channels. Whether or not water reaches the river channel is determined by the hydrological connectivity. This paper uses a numerical experiment-based approach to systematically assess the effects of slope length, gradient, flow path convergence, infiltration rates and vegetation patterns on the generation and connectivity of runoff. The experiments were performed with the Connectivity of Runoff Model, 2D version distributed, physically based, hydrological model. The experiments presented are set within a semi-arid environment, characteristic of south-eastern Spain, which is subject to low frequency high rainfall intensity storm events. As a result, the dominant hydrological processes are infiltration excess runoff generation and surface flow dynamics. The results from the modelling experiments demonstrate that three surface factors are important in determining the form of the discharge hydrograph: the slope length, the slope gradient and the infiltration characteristics at the hillslope-channel connection. These factors are all related to the time required for generated runoff to reach an efficient flow channel, because once in this channel, the transmission losses significantly decrease. Because these factors are distributed across the landscape, they have a fundamental role in controlling the landscape hydrological response to storm events. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.