Bacterial consumption of dissolved organic matter (DOM) drives much of the movement of carbon through the oceanic food web and the global carbon cycle. Understanding complex interactions between bacteria and marine DOM remains an important challenge. We tested the hypothesis that bacterial growth and community succession would respond differently to DOM additions due to seasonal changes in phytoplankton abundance in the environment. Four mesocosm experiments were conducted that spanned the spring transitional period (August-December 2013) in surface waters of the Western Antarctic Peninsula (WAP). Each mesocosm consisted of nearshore surface seawater (50 L) incubated in the laboratory for 10 days. The addition of DOM, in the form of cell-free exudates extracted from Thalassiosira weissflogii diatom cultures led to changes in bacterial abundance, production, and community composition. The timing of each mesocosm experiment (i.e., late winter vs. late spring) influenced the magnitude and direction of bacterial changes. For example, the same DOM treatment applied at different times during the season resulted in different levels of bacterial production and different bacterial community composition. There was a mid-season shift from Collwelliaceae to Polaribacter having the greatest relative abundance after incubation. This shift corresponded to a modest but significant increase in the initial relative abundance of Polaribacter in the nearshore seawater used to set up experiments. This finding supports a new hypothesis that starting community composition, through priority effects, influenced the trajectory of community succession in response to DOM addition. As strong inter-annual variability and long-term climate change may shift the timing of WAP phytoplankton blooms, and the corresponding production of DOM exudates, this study suggests a mechanism by which different seasonal successional patterns in bacterial communities could occur.