Sediment yield observations, derived from 40 long-term sedimentation records in Italian reservoirs, were used to calibrate and validate the spatially distributed sediment delivery model WaTEM/SEDEM using the best data available at national scale. The sediment yield data set includes records from semi-natural catchments in northern Italy as well as agricultural and seminatural basins in central and southern Italy. The average size of the catchments is 150 km(2) with mean annual sediment yields ranging from 0.20 to 20 t ha(-1) year(-1). WaTEM/SEDEM estimates mean annual sediment fluxes to permanent river channels. Depending on the local transport capacity, the sediment flux is detachment-limited or transport-limited. The optimal transport capacity parameters for Italian conditions were derived via automatic calibration procedures. A global model calibration procedure taking into account all catchments in the dataset led to an overestimation of the sediment yield for the mountain catchments and an underestimation for the non-mountain catchments. Sediment yield estimates are more reliable when calibration procedures are applied separately for mountain and non-mountain catchments. The model performance of WaTEM/SEDEM is rather poor in the mountain catchments (R=0.25), which suggests that the model structure is too simplified to come to an adequate description of the sediment fluxes. The model performance for the non-mountain catchments, which are more important from a management point of view, is significantly better (R=0.51). Considering the fact that data layers with a 75 x 75 in resolution were used, the results are encouraging the further development and application of spatially distributed sediment yield models at regional and national scale levels. (C) 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.