We set up a survey involving comprehensive chemical analyses of phytoplankton and the simultaneous monitoring of the reproductive response of Calanus helgolandicus. Hatching success and larvae development of C helgolandicus were monitored weekly with female specimens sampled along with phytoplankton in the coastal waters off Roscoff (Western English Channel) from March/April to October in 2003 and 2004. Polyunsaturated aldehyde (PUA) production and nutritional parameters of phytoplankton [i.e. polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), particulate organic carbon (POC) and nitrogen (PON)] were measured. The hatching success varied between 0% and 80% during the two spring-summer spawning seasons. Neither the nutritional parameters measured nor polyunsaturated aldehydes could be found responsible for the frequently observed hatching failure. However, egg production and hatching rates were strongly positively correlated, suggesting a functional link between these reproductive parameters. PUA production in phytoplankton was mainly determined by Thalassiosira rotula. The occurrence of this diatom species might be used as a marker of PUAs in the study area. Laboratory feeding experiments showed that single species diets of freshly isolated diatoms (T. rotula, Guinardia striata, Guinardia delicatula and Rhizosolenia setigera) caused high or low egg viability and naupliar survival of C. helgolandicus independent of PUA production and PUFA content. The impact of PUA on the hatching success of Calanus among different ecosystems is discussed. The combined approach of feeding experiments and chemical analysis supports the idea that parameters other than PUAs and PUFAs have to be taken into account in order to explain the highly variable hatching rates observed in this environment. (C) 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.