The Mobulidae are zooplanktivorous elasmobranchs comprising two recognized species of manta rays (Manta spp.) and nine recognized species of devil rays (Mobula spp.). They are found circumglobally in tropical, subtropical and temperate coastal waters. Although mobulids have been recorded for over 400 years, critical knowledge gaps still compromise the ability to assess the status of these species. On the basis of a review of 263 publications, a comparative synthesis of the biology and ecology of mobulids was conducted to examine their evolution, taxonomy, distribution, population trends, movements and aggregation, reproduction, growth and longevity, feeding, natural mortality and direct and indirect anthropogenic threats. There has been a marked increase in the number of published studies on mobulids since c. 1990, particularly for the genus Manta, although the genus Mobula remains poorly understood. Mobulid species have many common biological characteristics although their ecologies appear to be species-specific, and sometimes region-specific. Movement studies suggest that mobulids are highly mobile and have the potential to rapidly travel large distances. Fishing pressure is the major threat to many mobulid populations, with current levels of exploitation in target fisheries unlikely to be sustainable. Advances in the fields of population genetics, acoustic and satellite tracking, and stable-isotope and fatty-acid analyses will provide new insights into the biology and ecology of these species. Future research should focus on the uncertain taxonomy of mobulid species, the degree of overlap between their large-scale movement and human activities such as fisheries and pollution, and the need for management of inter-jurisdictional fisheries in developing nations to ensure their long-term sustainability. Closer collaboration among researchers worldwide is necessary to ensure standardized sampling and modelling methodologies to underpin global population estimates and status.