Consumption of periphyton is a potentially important route of metal exposure to benthic invertebrate grazers. The present study examined the bioaccumulation kinetics of dissolved and dietary Cd and Cu in five species of mayflies (class Insecta). Artificial stream water and benthic diatoms were separately labeled with enriched stable metal isotopes to determine physiological rate constants used by a biokinetic bioaccumulation model. The model was employed to simulate the effects of metal partitioning between water and food, expressed as the bioconcentration factor (BCF), as well as ingestion rate (IR) and metal assimilation efficiency of food (AE), on the relative importance of water and food to metal bioaccumulation. For all test species, the contribution of dietary uptake of Cd and Cu increased with BCF. For a given BCF, the contribution of food to the body burden increased with kuf, the metal uptake rate constant from food that combined variation in IR and AE. To explore the relative importance of water and diet exposure routes under field conditions, we used estimated site-specific aqueous free-ion concentrations to model Cd and Cu accumulation from aqueous exposure, exclusively. The predicted concentrations accounted for less than 5% of the observed concentrations, implying that most bioaccumulated metal was acquired from food. At least for the taxa considered in this study, we conclude that consumption of metal-contaminated periphyton can result in elevated metal body burdens and potentially increase the risk of metal toxicity. ?? 2011 SETAC.