Terrestrial ecosystems are characterized by a strong functional connection between the green (plant–herbivore-based) and brown (detritus–detritivore-based) parts of the food web, which both develop over successional time. However, the interlinked changes in green and brown food web diversity patterns in relation to key ecosystem processes are rarely studied. Here, we demonstrate changes in species richness, diversity and evenness over a wide range of invertebrate green and brown trophic groups during 100 years of primary succession in a saltmarsh ecosystem, using a well-calibrated chronosequence. We contrast two hypotheses on the relationship between green and brown food web diversity across succession: (i) ‘coupled diversity hypothesis’, which predicts that all trophic groups covary similarly with the main drivers of successional ecosystem assembly vs. (ii) the ‘decoupled diversity hypothesis’, where green and brown trophic groups diversity respond to different drivers during succession. We found that, while species richness for plants and invertebrate herbivores (green web groups) both peaked at intermediate productivity and successional age, the diversity of macrodetritivores, microarthropod microbivores and secondary consumers (brown web groups) continuously increased towards the latest successional stages. These results suggest that green web trophic groups are mainly driven by vegetation parameters, such as the amount of bare soil, vegetation biomass production and vegetation height, while brown web trophic groups are mostly driven by the production and standing stock of dead organic material and soil development. Our results show that plant diversity cannot simply be used as a proxy for the diversity of all other species groups that drive ecosystem functioning, as brown and green diversity components in our ecosystem responded differently to successional gradients.