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7.7: Life Cycles and Habitats

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    Learning Objectives
    • Describe the life cycle and habitat diversity of protists

    Life Cycles

    Protists reproduce by a variety of mechanisms. Most undergo some form of asexual reproduction, such as binary fission, to produce two daughter cells. In protists, binary fission can be divided into transverse or longitudinal, depending on the axis of orientation; sometimes Paramecium exhibit this method. Some protists such as the true slime molds exhibit multiple fission and simultaneously divide into many daughter cells. Others produce tiny buds that go on to divide and grow to the size of the parental protist. Sexual reproduction, involving meiosis and fertilization, is common among protists, and many protist species can switch from asexual to sexual reproduction when necessary. Sexual reproduction is often associated with periods when nutrients are depleted or environmental changes occur. Sexual reproduction may allow protists to recombine genes and produce new variations of progeny that may be better suited to surviving in the new environment. However, sexual reproduction is often associated with resistant cysts that are a protective, resting stage. Depending on their habitat, the cysts may be particularly resistant to temperature extremes, desiccation, or low pH. This strategy also allows certain protists to “wait out” stressors until their environment becomes more favorable for survival or until they are carried (such as by wind, water, or transport on a larger organism) to a different environment, because cysts exhibit virtually no cellular metabolism.

    Protist life cycles range from simple to extremely elaborate. Certain parasitic protists have complicated life cycles and must infect different host species at different developmental stages to complete their life cycle. Some protists are unicellular in the haploid form and multicellular in the diploid form, a strategy employed by animals. Other protists have multicellular stages in both haploid and diploid forms, a strategy called alternation of generations that is also used by plants.


    Nearly all protists exist in some type of aquatic environment, including freshwater and marine environments, damp soil, and even snow. Several protist species are parasites that infect animals or plants. A few protist species live on dead organisms or their wastes, and contribute to their decay.

    Practice Questions

    Explain in your own words why sexual reproduction can be useful if a protist’s environment changes.

    [practice-area rows=”2″][/practice-area]
    [reveal-answer q=”347707″]Show Answer[/reveal-answer]
    [hidden-answer a=”347707″]The ability to perform sexual reproduction allows protists to recombine their genes and produce new variations of progeny that may be better suited to the new environment. In contrast, asexual reproduction generates progeny that are clones of the parent.


    Giardia lamblia is a cyst-forming protist parasite that causes diarrhea if ingested. Given this information, against what type(s) of environments might G. lamblia cysts be particularly resistant?

    [practice-area rows=”2″][/practice-area]
    [reveal-answer q=”155458″]Show Answer[/reveal-answer]
    [hidden-answer a=”155458″]As an intestinal parasite, Giardia cysts would be exposed to low pH in the stomach acids of its host. To survive this environment and reach the intestine, the cysts would have to be resistant to acidic conditions.[/hidden-answer]

    Contributors and Attributions

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    7.7: Life Cycles and Habitats is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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