The distribution of zooplanktonic prey of fish larvae was examined in three bays and two lagoonal stations in the Southwest lagoon of New Caledonia. Water column conditions were characterized by increasing chlorophyll a and particulate organic matter (POM) concentrations from the lagoon to the estuarine bay. The mean zooplankton settled volume and total density were significantly higher in the estuarine bay, reaching 35.1mLm-3 and 3.5×105 individualsm-3, respectively. The total zooplankton density also progressively increased along the sampling period. The composition of assemblages differed between the lagoon and the bays, and was similar in the three bays. Wind speed, surface temperature, chlorophyll a and POM explained these variations, as revealed by a co-inertia analysis (COIA). The prey preferred by fish larvae, i.e. small crustaceans and small copepods, were more abundant in bays. Sheltered bays, most influenced by terrigenous inputs, are likely to provide the best feeding conditions.
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