1. Gut content analyses (GCA) of benthic macroinvertebrates, supplemented by carbon and nitrogen stable isotope analyses (SIA), were used to determine the relative contribution of leaf litter and autochthonous food sources to consumer biomass in five shaded and five unshaded streams in tropical Hong Kong.
2. Only four obligate shredders and two facultative shredders were identified out of 58 morphospecies dissected. Non-shredder taxa consumed little (<23% food eaten) coarse particulate organic matter (CPOM) in spite of its abundance in streams, and GCA revealed that fine particulate organic matter was the major food (25–99%) of most primary consumers.
3. Stable isotope analysis results were in general agreement with the findings of GCA, and confirmed that three of the four obligate shredders had a high dependence (55–78% of assimilated carbon) on CPOM.
4. Autochthonous energy sources were important in all streams: non-shredding primary consumers examined, which accounted for 72% of total macroinvertebrate abundance in shaded streams, derived (on average) 61% of their biomass from autochthonous foods; the equivalent values for unshaded streams were 72% (abundance) and 71% (biomass).