The amount of fluvial input has important impacts on shelf regions. To understand how the magnitude of fluvial discharge affects plume ecosystems, particularly organic carbon consumption, data over 10 consecutive summers (2003–2012) were examined in the Changjiang River plume of the East China Sea. The area of the Changjiang River plume ranged from approximately 4.90 × 103 km2 to 94.83 × 103 km2 and varied in proportion to the freshwater discharge rate. Plankton community respiration was at the medium to high end of the values reported for coastal regions. Total organic carbon consumption over the Changjiang River plume was positively correlated with the Changjiang freshwater discharge. This scaling relationship might be associated with river flows delivering allochthonous organic carbon and dissolved inorganic nutrients into the East China Sea. However, plankton community respiration (per m3 basis) decreased as the area of the Changjiang River plume increased; this rate appeared to have been influenced by particulate organic carbon (POC) levels and/or total plankton biomass. Even though POC was dominated by phytoplankton biomass allometrically, bacteria contributed more to plankton community respiration, possibly signifying that these bacteria were more reliant on plankton-derived organic matter. Even with high phytoplankton biomass and primary productivity, this plume ecosystem was heterotrophic, albeit close to a state of carbon balance. To support high organic carbon consumption, in addition to allochthonous sources from fluvial runoff, a large amount of organic matter might have been autochthonous and derived from plankton in the Changjiang River plume.
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