1. Eucalyptus globulus, a tree species planted worldwide in many riparian zones, has been reported to affect benthic macroinvertebrates negatively. Although there is no consensus about the effects of Eucalyptus on aquatic macrobenthos, its removal is sometimes proposed as a means of ecological restoration.
2. We combined the sampling of macroinvertebrates with measurement of the colonisation of leaf packs in mesh bags, to examine the effects of riparian Eucalyptus and its litter on benthic macroinvertebrates in three small streams in California, U.S.A. Each stream included one reach bordered by Eucalyptus (E-site) and a second bordered by native vegetation (N-site).
3. The macrobenthos was sampled and two sets of litter bags were deployed at each site: one set with Eucalyptus litter (Euc-bags) and one with mixed native tree litter (Nat-bags) containing Quercus, Umbellularia, Acer and Alnus. Bags were exposed for 28, 56 and 90 days and this experiment was repeated in the autumn, winter and spring to account for effects of changing stream flow and insect phenology.
4. Litter input (average dry mass: 950 g m−2 year−1 in E-sites versus 669 g m−2 year−1 in N-sites) was similar, although in-stream litter composition differed between E- and N-sites. Litter broke down at similar rates in Euc-bags and Nat-bags (0.0193 day−1 versus 0.0134 day−1), perhaps reflecting the refractory nature of some of the leaves of the native trees (Quercus agrifolia).
5. Summary metrics for macroinvertebrates (taxon richness, Shannon diversity, pollution tolerance index) did not differ significantly between the E and N sites, or between Euc-bags and Nat-bags. No effect of exposure time or site was detected by ordination of the taxa sampled. However, distinct seasonal ordination clusters were observed in winter, spring and autumn, and one of the three streams formed a separate cluster.
6. The presence of Eucalyptus was less important in explaining the taxonomic composition of the macrobenthos than either ‘season’ or ‘stream’. Similarly, these same two factors (but not litter species) also helped explain the variation in leaf breakdown. We conclude that patches of riparian Eucalyptus and its litter have little effect on stream macrobenthos in this region.