Detrital inputs to ecosystems provide potential food sources and can produce trophic cascades, but this effect is influenced by whether species specialise in consuming or inhabiting accumulations of detritus. To test whether species are differentially associated with leaves or sand, we compared densities of stream invertebrate species in patches of leaves and bare sand in two sandy-bed creeks in south-eastern Australia, in summer and spring. We also assessed the quality of information on diet and substrate association in the literature. Most species showed no density differences between leaf and sand patches ( microhabitat generalists ), but categorisation as generalists, leaf or sand species differed between datasets. We developed a method for identifying important effect sizes; power analyses showed that many species were true generalists, but many non-significant results were potentially Type II errors. The literature provided information that was broadly consistent with our data, but few studies publish reliable information about either diet or patch use. Our results support a contention that few Australian stream invertebrates are obligate shredders, and this may also be true for streams elsewhere. Predicting and detecting the responses of such generalist taxa to detrital inputs will be very challenging.