The chytrids are believed to have been the first of the fungal groups to diverge from a common ancestor many millions of years ago. They differ from all other fungal groups by possessing flagellated zoospores. At one time, the Fungi were defined by their lack of flagella, so the chytrids were assigned to the Protista (see Chapter 9). However, molecular evidence, including the possession of a chitinous cell wall, suggests that it would be more appropriate to place them among the Fungi.

Some members of the chytrids may live saprobically on decaying plant and animal matter, while others are parasites of plants and algae. Another group live anaerobically in the rumen of animals such as sheep and cattle. In recent years there has been evidence that a parasitic species of chytrid is at least partially responsible for the dramatic decline in frog populations in certain parts of the world. Some chytrids are unicellular, while others form mycelia of coenocytic hyphae. Reproduction may be asexual by means of motile zoospores or sexual. The latter may involve fusion of gametes to produce a diploid zygote, but there is no dicaryotic stage in the life cycle.

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