Domesticated rabbits are available in all sizes and colours, together with tiny Netherland Dwarfs, floppy-eared French lops, Flemish Giants, and fluffy Angoras.
These breeds belong to Europe’s solely rabbit species, initially restricted to the Iberian Peninsula and Southern France and used for meat and fur because the final Ice Age, culminating in domestication about 1,500 years in the past.
The Americas, then again, have many rabbit species with ranges all through each continents. The archaeological report reveals rabbits had been used as extensively within the Americas as they had been on the Iberian Peninsula, with clear archaeological proof that rabbits had been being intentionally raised. Why, then, had been rabbits domesticated in Europe and never the Americas?
Latest work by archaeologists Andrew Somerville of Iowa State College and UC Riverside’s Nawa Sugiyama discovered a easy reply: European rabbits dwell readily in massive social teams whereas American cottontail rabbits don’t. The much less social nature of American cottontails mixed with higher species range created a scenario the place rabbit husbandry didn’t result in domestication.
Sugiyama appeared to Teotihuacan, a significant metropolis in Mexico about 2,000 years in the past, the place cottontail rabbits comprised 23% of the animal stays throughout the Basic interval. This was greater than some other animal used for meat, together with wild deer, in addition to domesticated turkeys and canines. The proportion of rabbit bones elevated towards the town heart, suggesting they had been in all probability being raised, not hunted.
Rabbits had been buried on the Solar and Moon Pyramids and are discovered within the abdomen contents of sacrificial carnivores, equivalent to eagles and pumas. Rabbit bones discovered within the carnivore stomachs comprise a sort of carbon that signifies a weight loss plan unusually wealthy in corn or cactus, suggesting human-raised rabbits had, in flip, been fed to the carnivores.
“The rabbits had been in all probability fed corn, however the carbon isotopes do not distinguish between corn and cactus, so we will not say for sure,” Sugiyama mentioned.
Furthermore, 46% of the animal bones excavated in a single condominium compound had been from rabbits that had been fed an identical weight loss plan of agricultural crops, and the quantity of phosphate within the ground of 1 room signifies a location the place rabbits urinated and had been in all probability housed. A stone statue of a rabbit was additionally discovered within the complicated’s central plaza, reinforcing the significance of rabbit husbandry to the residents.
A thousand years later, the sixteenth century Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortez described the sale of rabbits on the Aztec market of Tlateloco. Over at the very least a millennia of husbandry and in depth use for meals, fur, and ritual, nevertheless, the rabbits of Mexico didn’t develop into domesticated — a mutualistic, multigenerational relationship characterised by human-controlled copy.
To know why, Somerville in contrast the behavioral ecology of European rabbits and American cottontails in opposition to standards that “prime” or preadapt animals for domestication. Animals which were domesticated normally dwell in teams with resident males. In addition they have younger that imprint simply and require parental care, a promiscuous mating system, tolerance for all kinds of environments, and low reactivity to people.
European and American rabbits had been comparable throughout all standards besides social habits. European rabbits dwell in underground household burrows, known as warrens, of as much as 20 people that embrace males, who defend their breeding territory from different males. Warrens made it straightforward for individuals to find and handle wild rabbit populations, then mimic these circumstances in captivity, the place rabbits readily reproduced.
American cottontails, then again, are solitary, dwell completely above floor, and have a tendency to combat in enclosures collectively. Males don’t defend a breeding territory and pursue extra opportunistic mating methods.
Somerville and Sugiyama conclude that their solitary nature, tendency to combat in enclosures, dispersed territories, and fewer predictable mating programs made it potential to lift rabbits with out forming the form of mutual relationship that will finally give people sufficient management over a species to direct its evolution. Larger species range additionally made it much less doubtless that anyone of them would develop into domesticated.
The open-access paper, “Why had been New World rabbits not domesticated?” is revealed in Animal Frontiers.