This paper examines the relationship between land surface properties (e.g. soil, vegetation, and lithology) and landscape morphology quantified by the catchment descriptors: the slope-area (S-A) relation, curvature-area (C-A) relation, and the cumulative area distribution (CAD), in two semi-arid basins in central New Mexico. The first site is composed of several basins located in today's desert elevations with mesic north-facing and xeric south-facing hillslopes underlain by different lithological formations. The second site is a mountainous basin exhibiting vegetation gradients from shrublands in the lower elevations to grasslands and forests at higher elevations. All three land surface properties were found to have significant influences on the S-A and C- A relations, while the power-law exponents of the CADs for these properties did not show any significant deviations from the narrow range of universal scaling exponents reported in the literature. Among the three different surface properties we investigated, vegetation had the most profound impact on the catchment descriptors. In the S-A diagrams of the aspect-controlled ecosystems, we found steeper slopes in north-facing aspects than south-facing aspects for a given drainage area. In elevation-controlled ecosystems, forested landscapes exhibited the steepest slopes for the range of drainage areas examined, followed by shrublands and grasslands in all soil textures and lithologies. In the C-A diagrams, steeper slopes led to a higher degree of divergence on hillslopes and a higher degree of convergence in the valleys than shallower slopes. The influence of functional types of vegetation detected on observed topography provided some initial understanding of the potential impacts of life on the organization of topography. This finding also emphasizes the critical role of climate in catchment development. We suggest that climatic fluctuations that are capable of replacing vegetation communities could lead to highly amplified hydrological and geomorphic responses. Published by Elsevier B.V.