Understanding the complex, non-linear ways in which linked ecological and geomorphological systems respond to disturbance is important to improving both theoretical understanding and practical environmental management. Some simple conceptual models have been proposed to describe biogeomorphological responses to disturbance within fluvial and aeolian environments, and are reviewed here. Recent research on the interactions between ecological and geomorphological processes in rock breakdown, aeolian, hillslope, fluvial and coastal wetland process regimes indicates a number of additional factors which need to be considered by such models in order to provide a more realistic representation. In particular, many empirical studies point to complex interactions between vegetation, microphytic crusts and animal action (bioturbation and grazing) in a wide range of sediment systems, which act as intrinsic feedback factors complicating the response of these systems to disturbances such as climate change and human action. Improved understanding of these interactions will help effective environmental management, as exemplified by salt marsh restoration schemes. Furthermore, better specification of biogeomorphological interactions can provide insights into large-scale, long-term Earth systems dynamics problems such as the long-term carbon cycle. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.