Spatial, seasonal and diel distribution patterns were analysed over a 2-year period for Diapterus auratus and Eucinostomus melanopterus in Pueblo Viejo lagoon, a tropical coastal lagoon in Veracruz, Mexico. A total of 216 samples were collected with 329 individuals of D. auratus and 170 of E. melanopterus. Diapterus auratus individuals were captured throughout a wider range of environmental conditions, and consequently its spatial niche breadth was significantly greater (P < 0.001) than that of E. melanopterus. In general, more individuals were captured at localities with submerged vegetation (Ruppia maritima), with 70% for D. auratus and 87.2% for E. melanopterus, although only the latter species showed significant spatial differences. A spatial segregation influenced by distance from the lagoon inlet and salinity was observed between the species. It is considered that this segregation may allow resource partitioning and minimize interspecific competition. A relatively low niche overlap (4.9%) was observed for the two species. Seasonal capture peaks of D. auratus were related to rainfall and the productivity pattern in the lagoon system. Seasonal fluctuations in monthly mean number of D. auratus were correlated with preceding variations in local rainfall (r = 0.86, P < 0.02). Moreover, seasonal capture peaks of D. auratus coincided with ecosystem primary production peaks. Although E. melanopterus exhibited no significant seasonal differences, its maximum numbers also coincided with an ecosystem primary production peak and recruitment patterns. In 24-h cycle analysis, both species were captured mainly around mid-day, with minor peaks at dawn and/or at dusk. Generally, few individuals were collected during hours of darkness. It was proposed that diel abundance variation of gerreids might be related to both light penetration in the water column and feeding activity. Food availability within Pueblo Viejo lagoon appears to be an important factor influencing fish abundance.