1. We examined effects of water temperature on the community structure of a three trophic level food chain (predatory fish, herbivorous caddisfly larvae and periphyton) in boreal streams. We used laboratory experiments to examine (i) the effects of water temperature on feeding activities of fish and caddisfly larvae and on periphyton productivity, to evaluate the thermal effects on each trophic level (species-level experiment), and (ii) the effects of water temperature on predation pressure of fish on abundance of the lower trophic levels, to evaluate how temperature affects top-down control by fish (community-level experiment).
2. In the species-level experiment, feeding activity of fish was high at 12 °C, which coincides with the mean summer temperature in forested streams of Hokkaido, Japan, but was depressed at 3 °C, which coincides with the mean winter temperature, and also above 18 °C, which coincides with the near maximum summer temperatures. Periphyton productivity increased over the range of water temperatures.
3. In the community-level experiments, a top-down effect of fish on the abundance of caddisfly larvae and periphyton was clear at 12 °C. This effect was not observed at 3 and 21 °C because of low predation pressure of fish at these temperatures.
4. These experiments revealed that trophic cascading effects may vary with temperature even in the presence of abundant predators. Physiological depression of predators because of thermal stress can alter top-down control and lead to changes in community structure.
5. We suggest that thermal habitat alteration can change food web structure via combinations of direct and indirect trophic interactions.