The free-living, cosmopolitan, freshwater betaproteobacterial bacterioplankton genus Polynucleobacter was detected in different years in 11 lakes of varying types and a river using the size-exclusion assay method (SEAM). Of the 350 strains isolated, 228 (65.1%) were affiliated with the Polynucleobacter subclusters PnecC (30.0%) and PnecD (35.1%). Significant positive correlations between fluorescence in situ hybridization and SEAM data were observed in the relative abundance of PnecC and PnecD bacteria to Polynucleobacter communities (PnecC + PnecD). Isolates were mainly PnecC bacteria in the samples with a high specific UV absorbance at 254 nm (SUVA254), and a low total hydrolysable neutral carbohydrate and amino acid (THneutralCH + THAA) content of the dissolved organic matter (DOM) fraction, which is known to be correlated with a high humic content. In contrast, the PnecD bacteria were abundant in samples with high chlorophyll a and/or THneutralCH + THAA concentrations, indicative of primary productivity. With few exceptions, differences in the relative abundance of PnecC and PnecD in each sample, determined using a high-sensitivity cultivation-based approach, were due to DOM quality. These results suggest that the major DOM component in the field, which is allochthonously or autochthonously derived, is a key factor for ecological niche separation between PnecC and PnecD subclusters.