A comparison of simple and complex versions of the Xinanjiang hydrological model in predicting runoff in ungauged basins
There are different views on the selection of hydrological model structural complexity for streamflow prediction in ungauged basins. Some studies suggest that complex models are better than simple models due to the former's prediction capability; whereas some studies favor parsimonious model structures to overcome a risk of over-parameterization. The Xinanjiang (XAJ) model, the most widely used hydrological model in China, has two different versions, as follows: (1) the simple version with seven parameters (XAJ7) and (2) the complex version with 14 parameters (XAJ14). In this study, the two versions of the XAJ model were comprehensively evaluated for streamflow prediction in ungauged basins based on their efficiency, parameter identifiability, and independence. The results showed that the complex XAJ14 model was more flexible than the simple XAJ7 in calibration mode; while the two models have similar performance in validation and regionalization modes. Lack of parameter identifiability and the presence of parameter interdependence most likely explain why the complex XAJ14 cannot consistently outperform the XAJ7 in different modes. Therefore, the simple XAJ7 is a better choice than XAJ14 for streamflow prediction in ungauged basins.