Here we report on the results of a survey of the yeast populations occurring on submerged leaves (alder, eucalyptus and oak) in a natural mountain stream, during different phases of their decomposition and through two consecutive years. Leaf litter mass loss, total yeast counts, Shannon-Weiner index (H'), yeast community structure and physiologic abilities were analyzed to evaluate the dynamics of yeast communities during decay. Seventy-two yeast taxa were recorded, and in all litter types, species of basidiomycetous affinity predominated over ascomycetous ones. Discriminant analysis of presence/absence data (yeast species) showed significant differences both among substrate types (P < 0.0026) and with decomposition time (P < 0.0001). Carbon and nitrogen source utilization by yeast strains also varied with the substrate (P < 0.0001) and decomposition time (P < 0.0001). Further conclusions were that: (1) all litter types have in common ubiquitous yeast species, such as Cryptococcus albidus, Debaryomyces hansenii and Rhodotorula glutinis, among the common 20 yeast species; (2) only a few species were dominant, and most species were rare, being recorded once or twice throughout decomposition; and (3) the order of yeast appearance, and their substrate assimilation patterns, strongly suggest a succession phenomenon. Finally, explanations for the distribution patterns and variations in yeast communities are discussed.