Eben Kirksey is a permanent faculty member in Environmental Humanities at UNSW Australia and a Visiting Research Scholar at The Graduate Center, City University of New York. He is the editor of The Multispecies Salon and the author of Freedom in Entangled Worlds: West Papua and the Architecture of Global Power, both also published by Duke University Press.
Chytrids are unloved microbes. One kind of chytrid, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, is destroying the worlds of amphibians. Hundreds or thousands of species of frogs, salamanders, and legless amphibians called caecilians are on the brink of extinction as a result. Other chytrid species perform critical ecological functions—some break down chitin, the hard material in the exoskeleton of insects, and others live in the hind guts of ruminants, where they help digest cellulose, a molecule in dead plant matter that is hard to break down. Chytrids generate spheres nested within other spheres, clear bubbles containing darker bubbles. When living in microbial ecosystems, chytrids are often ontologically indeterminate. They often become something else, adopting completely different structures, depending on who or what is in their world. Chytrids shape our own ontologies. As they create phenomenological bubbles, disrupting established boundaries with the penetrating grasp of their rootlike rhizoids, new worlds emerge around them.