Main Article Content
Terrestrial allochthonous organic matter represents a structuring element and an important source of energy and carbon to fauna in small forested streams. However, the role of this matter as a food resource for benthic macroinvertebrates, and consequently, for shredders and their performance in riverine processes, is not clear in low-order tropical streams. Aiming to investigate the relationship between shredders and leaves, we analyzed along a gradient of 8-93% canopy cover biomass and abundance of shredders, accumulated leaves and breakdown rates of local leaves to verify if these parameters were related to shade conditions and to each other. Three hypotheses were tested: i) shredder biomass, accumulated leaves and breakdown rates are related to canopy cover and exhibit higher values in shaded sites; ii) shredder biomass is positively related to accumulated leaves and breakdown rates; and iii) due to the relatively large body size of the important shredders, the association of shredders with leaves and importance to leaf processing should be better expressed in terms of guild biomass than abundance. Shredder biomass varied between 846 and 1506 mg DM m‑2 and accumulated leaves varied between 479 and 1120 g AFDM m-2 across sites. Leaf breakdown rate (k), the only measured variable that varied significantly among sites, varied between -0.0015 and -0.0238 day-1. Neither shredder biomass nor leaf biomass were associated with the shading gradient. On the other hand, shredder abundance and biomass, mainly represented by Triplectides (Trichoptera, Leptoceridae), was positively related to accumulated leaves within sites and to breakdown rates assessed by leaf packs. Leaf breakdown, as assessed by the experimental leaf packs, was associated with shredder biomass, but not with shredder abundance. This result suggests that macroinvertebrates are important for leaf detritus processing and that their biomass reflects their activity, presumably because it is related to their secondary production and perhaps non-consumptive action. Their activity was observed at the scale of leaf packs and not at the scale of variation in canopy cover because apparently canopy did not modulate availability of leaves, which were apparently not limiting to the shredders.