Introduced lagomorphs

Brian D. Cooke, John E.C. Flux, Never Bonino

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At least 2,000 years, few have become established widely and perhaps those on islands are often mere indicators of a wider traffic to mainland areas where releases did not persist because of more complex ecosystems. European rabbits, nevertheless, became established in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Chile, and Argentina as well as hundreds of islands throughout the world (Flux 1994), ranging from sub- Antarctic islands such as Kerguelen to tropical islands such as Phoenix Island in the Pacific within 3° of the equator. European hares are now found in many of the same countries as rabbits, including Australasia and South America, but have also become established in North America around the Great Lakes area. The eastern cottontail, a North American species, was introduced comparatively recently into Italy, France, and Spain, and populations in Italy are spreading apparently at the expense of local European hares. Other introductions of lagomorphs have been confined to extensions of range, establishment of populations elsewhere on the same continent, or small numbers of islands. History of Introductions and Spread Not all introductions of lagomorphs were carried out for the same reason. European rabbits were systematically spread through northeastern Europe in medieval times with monasteries and Norman dukes and kings playing a major role in the spread into Britain in the thirteenth century. Rabbit hunting and rights to keep rabbits in a garenne or warren were at times used to cultivate political According to Long (2003) in his widely cited book Intro duced Mammals of the World, nine species of lagomorph have been deliberately introduced by humans to areas beyond their historically known geographical ranges. Of these species, three have become established in such numbers that they have caused major economic damage or environmental disruption. The European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), the European hare (Lepus europaeus), and the eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) are now considered invasive species in several countries. However, we know today that Long (2003) could not have been aware of other introductions, particularly in the Mediterranean region, which are still coming to light because of modern genetic research (Pierpaoli et al. 1999; Pietri et al. 2011). It turns out that the Corsican hare (L. corsicanus), endemic to peninsular Italy and Sicily, was actually in troduced to Corsica (despite its specific name), where it was recently rediscovered (Scalera and Angelici 2003; Angelici and Spagnesi 2008a). The European hare was also introduced into Corsica in the twentieth century (from France and other countries), as well as the Iberian hare (L. granatensis; from Spain), which was also introduced in southern France. Finally, the Cape hare (L. cf. capensis) has apparently been introduced into Sardinia with the subspecies L. c. mediterraneus, probably introduced from North Africa, although its real systematic and phylogeographic status is yet to be determined (Scandura et al. 2007; Angelici and Spagnesi 2008b). Despite the frequency with which lagomorphs may have been moved from one locality to another, perhaps for 4 Introduced Lagomorphs brian d. cooke, john e. c. flux, and never bonino 1709048_int_cc2015.indd 13 15/9/2017 15:59 14  Introduced Lagomorphs allies or to reward for past services. Rabbits were spread more widely as various European countries became colonial powers and releases of rabbits in far- flung localities became increasingly common. Rabbits were released in the Azores and Canary Islands soon after these localities became strategically important for Portuguese and Spanish ships traveling to the Americas in the sixteenth century. In many instances rabbits and hares were introduced for hunting (e.g., rabbits and hares into Corsica and Sardinia), with some introductions possibly being made as recently as the sixteenth century (Angelici and Spagnesi 2008a; Pietri et al. 2011). European rabbits and European hares were introduced into Australia and New Zealand mainly for hunting, but also because these animals were reminders of a faraway “home” for nostalgic colonists. These introductions were partly to re- create opportunities for sport shooting, coursing with dogs, falconry, or, in the case of New Zealand, hunting on horseback with rabbits and hares as substitutes for foxes. Indian hares (L. nigricollis) were taken from India to Mauritius by European colonists too, although those in the Seychelles were apparently introduced by plantation workers as a source of food (Long 2003). Eastern cottontails, found mostly throughout the eastern and southern United States, but extending into the northernmost parts of South America, were also widely introduced into other parts of North America by hunters seeking to have more game animals. In the 1960s, they were also introduced by European hunters.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLagomorphs
Subtitle of host publicationPikas, Rabbits, and Hares of the World
EditorsAndrew T. Smith, Charlotte H. Johnston, Paulo C. Alves, Klaus Hacklander
Place of PublicationUnited States
PublisherThe Johns Hopkins University Press
Number of pages5
ISBN (Electronic)9781421423418
ISBN (Print)9781421423401
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018


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