Published online by Cambridge University Press: 14 December 2007
Anaerobic chytridiomycete fungi are found in the gastrointestinal tracts of sheep, cattle and goats, as well as in many other domesticated ruminant and nonruminant herbivores and a wide variety of wild herbivorous mammals. They are principally found associated with the fibrous plant particles of digesta and as free swimming zoospores in the fluid phase. The presence of large fungal populations in animals consuming mature pasture or diets largely composed of hay or straw together with the production of highly active fibre degrading enzymes lead to' the belief that anaerobic fungi may have a significant role to play in the assimilation of fibrous feeds by ruminants. While many early studies focused on anaerobic fungi because of their unusual biology and metabolism, the large part of subsequent research has emphasized the biotechnological potential of their cellulases, xylanases and phenolic esterases. In recent years, the extent of the contribution of anaerobic fungi to the nutrition of ruminants has also been established through studies of fungal populations in the rumen and the dietary factors which influence them, as presented in this review. Further, we discuss the evidence supporting an important contribution of anaerobic fungal populations in the rumen to feed intake and digestion of poor quality feed by domesticated ruminants. In conclusion, the review explores some different methods for manipulating fungi in the rumen for increased feed intake and digestion.