We removed stream-living macroinvertebrate shredder species in the sequences in which they are predicted to disappear, in response to two common types of anthropogenic disturbances: acidification and organic pollution, and analysed the effects on leaf breakdown rates. The experiment was performed in field microcosms using three shredder species. Species identity significantly affected leaf breakdown rates, while species richness per se was non–significant. The simulated sequential species loss showed large effects on leaf breakdown rates, with observed rates being significantly higher than expected from single–species treatments in two, out of four, two–species, and in all four three-species treatments. The invertebrates used in this study were taxonomically distinct (Insecta: Plecoptera and Trichoptera; Crustacea: Amphipoda), and of different sizes, hence a high degree of complementarity was probably present. A method to study the effects of species loss, characteristic of perturbation type, could be more useful than a random approach when investigating the impact of perturbation. Our results may have general applicability for investigations on the effects of diversity loss on ecosystem functioning in any ecosystem exposed to human perturbations, given that the order of extinction is known or can easily be assessed.