Bacterial community composition (BCC) has been extensively related to specific environmental conditions. Tropical coastal lagoons present great temporal and spatial variation in their limnological conditions, which, in turn, should influence the BCC. Here, we sought for the limnological factors that influence, in space and time, the BCC in tropical coastal lagoons (Rio de Janeiro State, Brazil). The Visgueiro lagoon was sampled monthly for 1 year and eight lagoons were sampled once for temporal and spatial analysis, respectively. BCC was evaluated by bacteria-specific PCR-DGGE methods. Great variations were observed in limnological conditions and BCC on both temporal and spatial scales. Changes in the BCC of Visgueiro lagoon throughout the year were best related to salinity and concentrations of NO3-, dissolved phosphorus and chlorophyll-a, while changes in BCC between lagoons were best related to salinity and dissolved phosphorus concentration. Salinity has a direct impact on the integrity of the bacterial cell, and it was previously observed that phosphorus is the main limiting nutrient to bacterial growth in these lagoons. Therefore, we conclude that great variations in limnological conditions of coastal lagoons throughout time and space resulted in different BCCs and salinity and nutrient concentration, particularly dissolved phosphorus, are the main limnological factors influencing BCC in these tropical coastal lagoons. © 2010 Springer Science+Business Media, LLC.