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This group of benthic raphid diatoms is found world-wide in freshwater and marine epipelon. Until the 1990s, only a few 10s of species had been described and all were classified in Navicula. It is now clear that the family contains many hundreds of species, most of which await names. The genus Sellaphora has become a model system for studying speciation and was the first to be used to explore the possibility of DNA barcoding for diatom identification.
The family Sellaphoraceae was first described in Mereschkowsky in 1902 to contain his new genus Sellaphora, which he separated from Navicula because of its saddle-like plastid. A further genus, Fallacia, was added by Mann (in Round et al. 1990), who also transferred Rossia and Caponea to the Sellaphoraceae. Microcostatus was described by Johansen & Sray (1998), but it is unclear whether this can or should be separated from Fallacia. Some species currently classified in Eolimna may belong in or near Sellaphora, but the type species of Eolimna is a fossil and it is probably impossible to assess whether it belongs to the Sellaphoraceae because of the lack of cytological or molecular data.
Most members of the family have modest dimensions (valve lengths mostly 10–60 µm) and simple shapes.