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Terrain is the topography or shape of the earth's surface, involving its vertical and horizontal dimensions (modified after LeCours[3]). Terrain refers to the physical characteristics of the earth's surface, which includes natural features of a region such as landforms, elevation and is driven by a number of factors including climate and geology.

Terrain influences the distribution of ecosystems, and land use patterns of people and the physical conditions of a landscape. It influences soil types, soil moisture, the distribution of vegetation and even surface radiation on a landscape. Ecosystem processes and biodiversity are largely dependant on terrain features that drive biological distributions[1].

Quick facts

Terrain can influence
local weather patterns and microclimates. Landforms such as mountains can block or redirect wind and precipitation, leading to variations in weather within a region.[5]

Terrain features can be used to understand ecosystems. Regional ecosystems, for example, are defined vegetation communities that are also associated with a combination of geology, landform and soil known as Landzones. Landzones are a simplified geology/substrate-landform classification for Queensland[4]. Terrain components can be viewed at multiple scales depending on the area of interest and the ecosystem processes being studied, which is the reason a classification system is practical solution to understanding complex systems like landscapes and terrain.

Terrain/geomorphic features are formed by, and interact with geomorphic processes (including hydrology). Terrain features may be represented digitally as digital terrain (surface) models, which are primarily derived from digital elevation models (DEM).

Various terrain metrics exist, but only some of these directly influence ecosystem distribution, including benthic depth, shape or morphology, slope, patterns formed by morphology, the relative relief of these patterns and roughness. Originally developed for catchment hydrology and soil prediction, terrain attributes are now routinely used to map and model sea floor ecosystems[2].

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  1. ^ Gong, W, Wang, H, Wang, X, Fan, W & Stott, P (1 September 2017), 'Effect of terrain on landscape patterns and ecological effects by a gradient-based RS and GIS analysis', Journal of Forestry Research. [online], vol. 28, no. 5, pp. 1061-1072. Available at: [Accessed 20 September 2023].
  2. ^ Harris, PT & Baker, E (2011), 'Seafloor geomorphology as benthic habitat: GeoHab Atlas of seafloor geomorphic features and benthic habitats', in P T Harris & E K Baker (eds), Seafloor geomorphology as benthic habitat: GeoHab Atlas of seafloor geomorphic features and benthic habitats, Elsevier, p. 871.
  3. ^ Lecours, V, Dolan, MFJ, Micallef, A & Lucieer, VL (2016), 'A review of marine geomorphometry, the quantitative study of the seafloor', Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, vol. 20, no. 8, p. 3207, Copernicus GmbH.
  4. ^ The conservation status of Queensland’s biogeographic regional ecosystems (1999), Environmental Protection Agency, Brisbane, eds. P Sattler & R Williams.
  5. ^ The highs and lows of climate | NOAA [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 September 2023].

Last updated: 20 September 2023

This page should be cited as:

Department of Environment, Science and Innovation, Queensland (2023) Terrain, WetlandInfo website, accessed 1 February 2024. Available at:

Queensland Government
WetlandInfo   —   Department of Environment, Science and Innovation