Lagomorph Biology

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Introduction to the Lagomorpha

  • Joseph A. ChapmanAffiliated withPresident’s Office, North Dakota State University
  • , John E. C. FluxAffiliated withEcological Research Associates NZ

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Lagomorphs (pikas, rabbits and hares) are widespread, being native or introduced on all continents except Antarctica. They are all herbivores, occupying an unusual size range between the rodents, “small mammals”, and ungulates, “large mammals”. Pikas weigh 75–290 g, rabbits 1–4 kg, and hares 2–5 kg. Despite the small number of extant species relative to rodents, lagomorphs are very successful, occurring from sea level up to over 5,000 m, from the equator to 80 N, and in diverse habitats including tundra, steppe, swamp, and tropical forest. Some species have extremely narrow habitat tolerance, for example the pygmy rabbit (Brachylagus idahoensis) requires dense sagebrush, the riverine rabbit (Bunolagus monticularis) is restricted to Karoo floodplain vegetation, and the volcano rabbit (Romerolagus diazi) to zacaton grassland. On the other hand, the tapeti (Sylvilagus brasiliensis) occurs from alpine grassland at the snowline to dense equatorial forest on the Amazon, and some hares (Lepus spp.) occupy vast areas. According to the latest review by Hoffmann and Smith (in press), there are about 91 living species, including 30 pikas, 32 hares and 29 rabbits (see Fig. 1, families and genera of living lagomorphs).