1. Worldwide, increasing numbers of stream restoration projects are being initiated to rehabilitate waterways modified by urbanisation. However, many of these projects have limited success in restoring stream communities. Prompted by this, we investigated previously unrecognised barriers to aquatic insect colonisation in urban streams.
2. To investigate whether the availability of suitable substrata for oviposition limited the longitudinal distribution of caddisflies, large boulders were added to the upstream reaches of one stream. Prior to the addition, more egg masses were observed downstream and this longitudinal pattern persisted subsequently.
3. Malaise trapping revealed that adult caddisfly diversity and abundance was greater downstream than upstream. Furthermore, in a previous study the authors found larval caddisflies reflected the longitudinal distribution of adults.
4. The only obvious potential obstructions between reaches were roads beneath which the stream flowed through culverted crossings. Malaise trapping was used to examine the effect of road culverts and bridges on caddisfly dispersal. Numbers of caddisflies caught declined upstream and about 2.5 × more individuals were taken in traps immediately below than above five culverts.
4. Bridges, which had a more open structure than culverts, had no significant effect on the size of catches made above and below them.
5. Road culverts could act as partial barriers to upstream flight, with consequences for larval recruitment in urban streams. We recommend that urban planners and designers of restoration projects consider possible synergistic effects of poor oviposition habitat and barriers to aquatic insect dispersal, which may be critical for the colonisation of urban headwater streams and for the maintenance of stream insect populations.