The input of leaf litter resources is a major driver of ecosystem processes in terrestrial and freshwater habitats. Although variation exists in the quantity and composition of litter inputs due to natural and anthropogenic causes, few studies have examined how such variation influences the structure and composition of aquatic food webs. Using outdoor mesocosms, we examined the bottom–up effects of 10 chemically distinct tree litter species on microbial, algal, invertebrate and vertebrate fauna found in temperate ponds. We hypothesized that individual litter species, which differ in their traits, would differentially and predictably affect abiotic and biotic elements of pond communities. We further hypothesized that the presence of leaf litter, regardless of species, would elevate resource supply and increase the biomass of community members. Finally, we hypothesized that a mixture of litter species would have non-additive effects on community responses. We followed the system for > 4 months and measured > 30 abiotic and biotic responses related to primary and secondary production. The different species of leaf litter had major effects on abiotic and biotic responses, including phytoplankton, periphyton, zooplankton, snails, amphipods and tadpoles. Most biological responses were negatively associated with soluble carbon content of litter, or litter decay rate. Other litter traits, including phenolic concentrations and litter C:N were of secondary importance but did exhibit both positive and negative associations with several responses. The absence of litter had pervasive effects on abiotic attributes, but did not promote substantial changes in organism biomass. Most responses to the litter mixture were additive. Our results suggest that changes in temperate forest composition can strongly affect pond communities.