The family Rhodobacteraceae can be considered a paradigm of modern taxonomy of prokaryotes. Taking into account the number of species and genera that conforms the family, together with the knowledge about their abundance and vast global distribution, it surprises that most of them have been described relatively recent to our days. Two notable exceptions are Rhodonostoc capsulatum (Molisch, Die purpurbakterien nach neuen untersuchungen, vols i–vii. G. Fischer, Jena, pp 1–95, 1907) and Micrococcus denitrificans Beijerinck and Minkman (Zentbl Bakteriol, Parasitenkd, Infektionskr Hyg. Abt II 25:30–63, 1910), early basonyms of Rhodobacter capsulatus and Paracoccus denitrificans, respectively. The fact that so many descriptions within this family are recent means that some studies have been concomitant and pose a challenge not only for pure taxonomic studies but also for interpreting other studies in which a rapidly evolving nomenclature had to be used anyway. The metabolic and ecological diversity of the group adds further complexity. In spite of all these difficulties, the picture is far from being a chaos and it can be considered an exciting and important bacterial group to study.
Rhodobacteraceae are, fundamentally, aquatic bacteria that frequently thrive in marine environments. They comprise mainly aerobic photo- and chemoheterotrophs but also purple non-sulfur bacteria which perform photosynthesis in anaerobic environments. They are deeply involved in sulfur and carbon biogeochemical cycling and symbiosis with aquatic micro- and macroorganisms.
One hundred genera are currently recognized as members of the family although the Stappia group, Ahrensia, Agaricicola, and Rhodothalassium do not belong, phylogenetically, to the family. The 90 other genera are distributed in 5 phylogenetic groups (the Rhodobacter, the Paracoccus, the Rhodovulum, the Amaricoccus, and the Roseobacter clades) that might be considered a family on its own.