Within the bacterial class Alphaproteobacteria, the order Rhodobacterales contains the Roseobacter and Rhodobacter clades. Roseobacters are abundant and play important biogeochemical roles in marine environments. Roseobacter and Rhodobacter genomes contain a conserved gene transfer agent (GTA) gene cluster, and GTA-mediated gene transfer has been observed in these groups of bacteria. In this study, we investigated the genetic diversity of these two groups in Chesapeake Bay surface waters using a specific PCR primer set targeting the conserved Rhodobacterales GTA major capsid protein gene (g5). The g5 gene was successfully amplified from 26 Rhodobacterales isolates and the bay microbial communities using this primer set. Four g5 clone libraries were constructed from microbial assemblages representing different regions and seasons of the bay and yielded diverse sequences. In total, 12 distinct g5 clusters could be identified among 158 Chesapeake Bay clones, 11 fall within the Roseobacter clade, and one falls in the Rhodobacter clade. The vast majority of the clusters (10 out of 12) lack cultivated representatives. The composition of g5 sequences varied dramatically along the bay during the wintertime, and a distinct Roseobacter population composition between winter and summer was observed. The congruence between g5 and 16S rRNA gene phylogenies indicates that g5 may serve as a useful genetic marker to investigate diversity and abundance of Roseobacter and Rhodobacter in natural environments. The presence of the g5 gene in the natural populations of Roseobacter and Rhodobacter implies that genetic exchange through GTA transduction could be an important mechanism for maintaining the metabolic flexibility of these groups of bacteria.