1. The apparent absence of a specialist herbivorous grazer guild from many acid streams suggests that algae-grazer linkages in acid-stream food webs are weak or absent. It has been hypothesized that the absence of herbivores is a consequence of the low quality and/or quantity of biofilms in acid streams. 2. We compared the taxonomic composition, biomass and potential nutritional quality of epilithic biofilms from four acid and four circumneutral streams, and examined whether nymphs of a herbivore-detritivore, the stonefly Nemurella pictetii (Plecoptera: Nemouridae), could grow equally well when fed on eight biofilms from four acid and four circumneutral streams. 3. Biofilms from acid and circumneutral streams differed strongly in algal composition, the former having relatively more coccoid green algae but fewer diatoms and filamentous green algae. Diatom floras differed with stream water pH. 4. The quantity (i.e. area-specific chlorophyll content, algal numbers and AFDM) and quality (biomass-specific protein and soluble carbohydrate content) of biofilms differed significantly, both among sites of similar pH, and overall between the groups of acid and circumneutral streams. 5. Nymphs of N. pictetii grew successfully on biofilms for 8-10 weeks up to emergence. However, no systematic differences in growth rate were found between the two groups of acid and circumneutral streams. Differences in the digestibility of benthic algae from different sources, and the adjustment of nymphal feeding rates, are discussed in the light of a lack of a clear relationship between growth and food quality.
- acid streams