La Mancha lagoon in the Gulf of Mexico, is a coastal system with Ramsar category because of its high biodiversity, many species of fish depend on it to complete their life cycles. In this study we analyzed the spatial and temporal variation of fish diversity, abundance and associations, and its relationship with physicochemical factors. Between April 2005 and January 2008, 95 daytime samplings were carried out at seven sites, where water characteristics and the composition of fish community were recorded. The system presented spatial-temporal variations of the physicochemical parameters, defining contrasting environments according to the local gradients. A total of 5 974 fish individuals, belonging to 50 species, 39 genera and 25 families were collected; four species were new records for the system. The diversity and richness of species were high in the brackish environment and low in freshwaters areas. In September (rainy season) and November (“nortes” season), diversity (H' = 1.52) and richness (D = 1.99) were highest. Fish abundance was greater towards the mouth connecting with the sea. The density and biomass (1.17 ind/m2, 4.33 g/m2) was higher in April (dry season) and the average weight (30.82 g/ind) in July (rainy season). The Importance Value Index (IVI) defined four dominant species representing 75 % of the numerical abundance and 46 % of the total catch in weight. The Canonical Correspondence Analysis (CCA) showed that the fish-habitat relationship was explained in 57 % of the total variance for the first two axes, where the variations in temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen and depth were the environmental factors that determined the composition, distribution, community components and trophic categories of the fish community. This study provides information on the relationship between the environment and the structure of the fish community in La Mancha, and represents a basis for ecological monitoring to increase the knowledge needed about the ecosystem and fish populations, in order to boost management strategies for the fishery resources conservation in Veracruz.

Keywords: physicochemical factors, community structure, dominance, trophic structure, fish-habitat relationships, La Mancha, Mexico.