In order to document further the phenomena of variance in reproductive success in natural populations of the European flat oyster Ostrea edulis, two complementary studies based on natural and experimental populations were conducted. The first part of this work was focused on paternity analyses using a set of four microsatellite markers for larvae collected from 13 brooding females sampled in Quiberon Bay (Brittany, France). The number of individuals contributing as the male parent to each progeny assay was highly variable, ranging from 2 to more than 40. Moreover, paternal contributions showed a much skewed distribution, with some males contributing to 50–100% of the progeny assay. The second part of this work consisted of the analysis of six successive cohorts experimentally produced from an acclimated broodstock (62 wild oysters sampled in the Quiberon Bay). Allelic richness was significantly higher in the adult population than in the temporal cohorts collected. Genetic differentiation (Fst estimates) was computed for each pair of samples and all significant values ranged from 0·7 to 11·9%. A limited effective number of breeders (generally below 25) was estimated in the six temporal cohorts. The study gives first indications of the high variance in reproductive success as well as a reduced effective size, not only under experimental conditions but also in the wild. Surprisingly, the pool of the successive cohorts, based on the low number of loci used, appeared to depict a random and representative set of alleles of the progenitor population, indicating that the detection of patterns of temporal genetic differentiation at a local scale most likely depends on the sampling window.