Running waters contribute substantially to global carbon fluxes through decomposition of terrestrial plant litter by aquatic microorganisms and detritivores. Diversity of this litter may influence instream decomposition globally in ways that are not yet understood. We investigated latitudinal differences in decomposition of litter mixtures of low and high functional diversity in 40 streams on 6 continents and spanning 113° of latitude. Despite important variability in our dataset, we found latitudinal differences in the effect of litter functional diversity on decomposition, which we explained as evolutionary adaptations of litter-consuming detritivores to resource availability. Specifically, a balanced diet effect appears to operate at lower latitudes versus a resource concentration effect at higher latitudes. The latitudinal pattern indicates that loss of plant functional diversity will have different consequences on carbon fluxes across the globe, with greater repercussions likely at low latitudes.