The rates of particulate (PPp) and dissolved primary production (PPd) were estimated along a trajectory of variable environmental regimes formed in a narrow shelf area, following the course of Black Sea water masses (BSW) passing through the Turkish Straits System (TSS) into the NE Aegean Sea (BS-AS outflow). Seven stations in total were sampled, covering a transect from the eastern edge of the Marmara Sea basin to the NE Aegean Sea, during two consecutive cruises performed in October 2008 within the framework of the EU SESAME project. Along the BS-AS outflow, depth-integrated over the surface BSW layer PPp decreased considerably from 91 to <16 mg C m(2) h(-1) whereas PPd increased from 3 to 10 mg C m(-2) h(-1). As a consequence, the relative importance of PPd over total production (percentage extracellular release, PER) increased from 6% (+/-3% sd) in the Marmara Sea to 37% (+/-4% sd) in the NE Aegean Sea. Total chlorophyll a concentration gradually decreased and phytoplankton community size-structure was modified, with pico-phytoplankton, that originally represented 35% (+/-9% sd) in the Marmara Sea, gradually becoming dominant in the NE Aegean (77% +/- 2% sd), substituting large nano- and micro-phytoplankton cells (>5 mu m). This study showed that PER increased along a gradient from mesotrophy to oligotrophy, probably due to nutrient deficiency constraining phytoplankton growth and was closely related to phytoplankton size-structure. In the oligotrophic NE Aegean Sea, phytoplankton exudation was a significant source of dissolved organic carbon for heterotrophic prokaryotes. (C) 2013 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.