Runoff yield and sediment delivery are compared in three shrub species (Medicago arborea, Atriplex nummularia, and Psoralea bituminosa) with natural (matorral) vegetation in an experimental plot set. The planted species are arranged in discontinuous rows perpendicular to the slope, acting as barriers to the direction of the surface water flow. The study was carried out from 1988 to 1995, in which 56 erosive rain events were monitored in runoff production and in soil losses, together with their intrinsic characteristics (duration, intensity and rainfall). Growth of the three shrub species (height, vegetation cover, and stem diameter) and the influence on soil properties during this period were recorded. Because of certain characteristics of the study area (shallow soils, high levels of carbonates, stoniness) and the climate (an especially intense period of drought since 1990), the growth of these plants was very irregular. M. arborea gave the best protection against water erosion reducing sediment production by more than 58% compared to the bare soil. However, the protection afforded by this species never reached that obtained with natural vegetation, which reduced sediment production by almost 75%. © 1998 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.