Previous observations of correlated community dynamics between phytoplankton and bacteria in lakes indicate that phytoplankton populations may influence bacterial community structure. To investigate the possibility that bacterial use of phytoplankton exudates contributes to observed patterns of community change, we characterized the diversity and dynamics of heterotrophic bacterioplankton with genetic potential to use glycolate, a photorespiration-specific exudate, in five lakes over a 15-week period. Culture-independent approaches were used to track different bacterial phylotypes represented by DNA sequence variation in the functional gene glycolate oxidase subunit D (glcD). glcD gene sequences from freshwater bacteria exhibited broad phylogenetic diversity, including sequences representing the Alpha-, Beta-, and Gammaproteobacteria, Actinobacteria, Bacteroidetes, Firmicutes, and Verrucomicrobia. The majority of glcD gene sequences were betaproteobacterial, with 48% of the sequences clustering with the glcD gene from the cosmopolitan freshwater species Polynucleobacter necessarius. Terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism fingerprinting of the glcD gene revealed changes in glycolate-utilizing assemblages over time. An average of 39% of within-lake temporal variation in glycolate-utilizing assemblages across five lakes was explained by phytoplankton community composition and dynamics. The interaction between phytoplankton populations and the environment explained an additional 17% of variation on average. These observations offer new insight into the diversity and temporal dynamics of freshwater bacteria with genetic potential to use glycolate and support the hypothesis that algal exudates influence the structure of bacterial communities.