1. We compared fungal biomass, production and microbial respiration associated with decomposing leaves in one softwater stream (Payne Creek) and one hardwater stream (Lindsey Spring Branch).
2. Both streams received similar annual leaf litter fall (478–492 g m−2), but Lindsey Spring Branch had higher average monthly standing crop of leaf litter (69 ± 24 g m−2; mean ± SE) than Payne Creek (39 ± 9 g m−2).
3. Leaves sampled from Lindsey Spring Branch contained a higher mean concentration of fungal biomass (71 ± 11 mg g−1) than those from Payne Creek (54 ± 8 mg g−1). Maximum spore concentrations in the water of Lindsay Spring Branch were also higher than those in Payne Creek. These results agreed with litterbag studies of red maple (Acer rubrum) leaves, which decomposed faster (decay rate of 0.014 versus 0.004 day−1), exhibited higher maximum fungal biomass and had higher rates of fungal sporulation in Lindsey Spring Branch than in Payne Creek.
4. Rates of fungal production and respiration per g leaf were similar in the two streams, although rates of fungal production and respiration per square metre were higher in Lindsey Spring Branch than in Payne Creek because of the differences in leaf litter standing crop.
5. Annual fungal production was 16 ± 6 g m−2 (mean ± 95% CI) in Payne Creek and 46 ± 25 g m−2 in Lindsey Spring Branch. Measurements were taken through the autumn of 2 years to obtain an indication of inter-year variability. Fungal production during October to January of the 2 years varied between 3 and 6 g m−2 in Payne Creek and 7–27 g m−2 in Lindsey Spring Branch.
6. Partial organic matter budgets constructed for both streams indicated that 3 ± 1% of leaf litter fall went into fungal production and 7 ± 2% was lost as respiration in Payne Creek. In Lindsey Spring Branch, fungal production accounted for 10 ± 5% of leaf litter fall and microbial respiration for 13 ± 9%.