Abstract The copepod community structure from the Northern and Central/southern upwelling regions off Chile was studied and compared. The derived community descriptors were species abundance (N), species richness (R) and the Shannon-Wiener diversity index (H′). These descriptors were related to distinct habitats and conditions, sea surface temperature (SST) and depth of the upper boundary of the oxygen minimum zone (OMZ). From 159 samples, obtained between 2002 and 2008, a total number of 118 species were found of which the calanoids Paracalanus indicus, Acartia tonsa and Eucalanus inermis, along with the cyclopoid Oithona similis, and the poecilostomatoids Triconia conifera and Oncaea media were the dominant species. H′ was higher in the northern region, but no differences in N and R were detected between regions. N was higher in the epipelagic vs the deep habitat, but R and H′ did not differ. N, R and H′ correlated positively to SST and negatively to OMZ depth. The ascent of the OMZ to the upper layer forced by upwelling was proposed as a mechanism that aggregates and increases copepod diversity in the food-rich photic zone. All these findings suggest a fundamental role of upwelling variation for modulating copepod dynamics and community structure in this highly productive but strongly variable marine ecosystem.