Streams on uniformly rainforest-covered, but lithologically very diverse Barro Colorado Island in central Panama?? show remarkable differences in their runoff response to rainfall. This lithological diversity is reflected in equally diverse soilscapes, and our objective was to test the hypothesis that contrasting runoff responses derive from soilscape features that control the generation of overland flow. We determined the soil saturated hydraulic conductivity (Ks) of two neighboring, but hydrologically contrasting catchments (Lutz Creek with a flashy and Conrad Trail with a delayed response to rainfall), and quantified the spatial and temporal frequency of overland flow occurrence. The median Ks values at a depth of 12.5 cm are large enough to rule out Hortonian overland flow, but a marked decrease in K s in Lutz Creek catchment at 30 cm suggests the formation of a perched water table and the generation saturation overland flow; the decrease in Ks in the Conrad Trail catchment is more gradual, and a perched water table is expected to form only at depths below 50 cm. In Lutz Creek, overland flow was generated frequently in time and space and regardless of topographic position, including near the interfluve, with very low thresholds of storm magnitude, duration, intensity and antecedent wetness, whereas in Conrad Trail, overland flow was generated much less frequently and then only locally. We conclude that soilscape features and microtopography are important controls of overland flow generation in these catchments. Our results contribute to the growing evidence that overland flow and forests are not a priori a contradiction in terms. ?? 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.