The impact of changing catchment vegetation type on mean annual runoff has been known for some time, however, the impact on the variability of annual runoff has been established only recently. Differences in annual actual evapotranspiration between vegetation types and the potential effect of changing vegetation type on mean annual runoff and the variability of annual runoff are briefly reviewed. The magnitude of any change in the variability of annual runoff owing to a change in catchment vegetation type is related to the pre- and post-change vegetation types and the seasonality of precipitation, assuming that the variability of annual precipitation remains constant throughout. Significant implications of the relationship between vegetation type and the variability of annual runoff are presented and discussed for water resource management, stream ecology and fluvial geomorphology. Copyright © 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.