During the austral spring (December 1996), numerical abundance of copepod species (Crustacea: Copepoda) was estimated from 53 sampling stations scattered over the coastal waters off Mejillones Peninsula, northern Chile. Samples were obtained from two depth strata; 0-50 m and 50-200 m depth. Oceanographic data over the three-day cruise indicated that coastal upwelling was actively occurring during the survey.
A total of 19 species was identified, of which four of them, Paracalanus parvus, Oncaea conifera, Oithona similis and Calanus chilensis, accounted for more than 80% of the whole copepod assemblage in terms of numerical abundance. Using the K-means exploratory analysis the 53 locations were grouped into two clusters: an upwelling type and a non-upwelling type. The former characterized by locations nearshore, with low temperature (<17°C) and high chorophyll-a (>13.4 mg m−3), while the latter had warmer waters (>18°C) and low chlorophyll-a (<4.8 mg m−3). Chlorophyll-a (chl-a), distance to shoreline and temperature at 10 m depth (T10) were all significant variables ( P<0.05) for clustering analysis. There was a strong negative correlation between T10 and chl-a ( P<0.01). The same clustering technique, based on species abundance, suggested the presence of a unique cluster, whose composition was dominated by P. parvus, O. similis, Acartia tonsa and Centropages brachiatus. Stepwise multiple regression showed that these species were also strongly correlated to chl-a and T10. Together these analyses suggest that water mass circulation during upwelling is the driving force for structuring spatial patterns of copepod distribution. In addition, a vertical distribution parameter suggested that copepods, independently of time of the day, tended to remain in a large proportion in near surface waters, possibly constrained by a shallow oxygen minimum layer. This implies that advection during active upwelling may cause large fractions of populations being transported offshore, allowing zooplankton export to more oceanic waters. Rapid turnover rates of copepods growing continuously year-round, may act as a mechanism to compensate population losses during persistent coastal upwelling.