Phytoplankton blooms characterize temperate ocean margin zones in spring. We investigated the bacterioplankton response to a diatom bloom in the North Sea and observed a dynamic succession of populations at genus-level resolution. Taxonomically distinct expressions of carbohydrate-active enzymes (transporters; in particular, TonB-dependent transporters) and phosphate acquisition strategies were found, indicating that distinct populations of Bacteroidetes, Gammaproteobacteria, and Alphaproteobacteria are specialized for successive decomposition of algal-derived organic matter. Our results suggest that algal substrate availability provided a series of ecological niches in which specialized populations could bloom. This reveals how planktonic species, despite their seemingly homogeneous habitat, can evade extinction by direct competition.