Invertebrate diversity patterns were examined in 10 streams that differed in substrate disturbance rates, in Taranaki, New Zealand, between April 1999 and January 2000. Two sites on each stream were sampled, one under native forest canopy where light was postulated to limit periphyton growth and a similar site 225–3800 m downstream in open grassland. Periphyton biomass was considerably higher at open stable sites than at closed or unstable sites. Associated with the higher algal biomass, species number and total abundance of animals were higher at open canopy sites. Species number exhibited a negative linear relationship with disturbance but only at open sites. In contrast, rarefied species richness exhibited a negative linear relationship with disturbance at both open and closed sites. This was a result of communities at the more disturbed sites being numerically dominated by only a few taxa compared to the more evenly distributed communities at stable sites. The observed patterns provide little support for contemporary diversity disturbance models but suggest diversity of invertebrates in streams is a function of time since the last disturbance, mediated through recovery of the food base in autotrophic streams.