Significance to humans

Lagomorphs are economically and aesthetically important to humans in many ways. The pikas, normally living in remote pristine settings high in mountains or on the plateaus of Asia, represent wildness. The secretive yet engaging nature of these diurnally active creatures are enticing to ecotourists. Pikas have little history of direct economic importance to hu mans. They are too small to be utilized as food, although at times their soft fur has been used to make felt in central Asia. Also in central Asia, the soft feces of pikas is put through a distilling process and dried into a product called "mumio" that can be dissolved in water as a folk remedy to assist with the healing of broken bones or rheumatism. Some of the burrowing pikas are thought to compete with human economic interests and are poisoned. The Afghan pika (Ochotona rufescens) sometimes occupies agricultural areas, eating wheat or other crops and damaging apple, walnut, and other economically important trees. Other species (Pallas's pika [O. pal-lasi], Daurian pika [O. dauurica], plateau pika [O. curzoniae]) are believed to compete with livestock or to damage range lands. As an example of these control efforts, during the past four decades the plateau pika has been poisoned cumulatively over 80,000 sq mi (200,000 sq km) in Qinghai Province, China. Another perspective, however, on the role of the plateau pika is that it serves as a major keystone species for biodiversity on the Tibetan Plateau. When these pikas are poisoned other native species of endemic birds and predators that depend on the pikas for food disappear. The pikas also function to recycle soil and reduce erosion on degraded lands. While some control efforts continue, the tide is turning and this beneficial role of the plateau pika is being more widely acknowledged in China.

Leporids provide sport hunting, food, and fur worldwide. The cottontail rabbit (genus Sylvilagus) is the principal game animal in the United States; millions are hunted for sport each year. The pelt is sometimes used for clothing, and the meat is considered a delicacy. Snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus) have been a major component of the fur trade, particularly in Canada. Records of their pelts from the logs of the Hudson Bay Company extend back to early 1800s. Other hare species, both in North America and throughout the world, are also hunted for food and sport. In North America hares are not considered as desirable as cottontails. The European hare (L. europaeus) has declined in numbers and importance as a game species in recent years, and similar declines have been noted across Asia for other hare species. In Argentina, where it has been introduced, over six million European hares are hunted annually, and others are exported to Italy for sport hunting there.

Rabbits and hares also form an important link in ecological food chains; many predators rely on the abundance of the non-hibernating leporids in their diet, particularly during winter. One key example of this phenomenon is the linkage of numbers of the lynx with those of the snowshoe hare, which range from high to low population levels in a 10-year cycle. Leporids can also cause damage to ecosystems when their numbers are high, either girdling trees or consuming forage that could otherwise be available to livestock. Rabbits and hares are attracted to crop lands, reach high densities in these areas, and concomitantly are also considered an agricultural pest in certain areas.

The greatest damage done by a lagomorph has resulted from the human folly of introducing the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) to areas throughout the world where there were no lagomorphs. The most dramatic example of such an alien introduction occurred in Australia. Here, 24 rabbits were introduced in 1859, and they rapidly increased and spread throughout most of the continent. In 1950 there were an estimated 750 million rabbits in Australia, and the damage that the rabbits have caused is legendary. Not only has the livestock industry been impacted, but the degradation to the habitat has led to the loss of many of Australia's unique native flora and fauna. The enterprising Australians have tried nearly everything to rid their land of this pest. The biological control agent, myxomytosis, initially proved to be highly effective, killing nearly all animals in most populations. However, rabbits have developed immunities and rebounded from this treatment. Additional innovative control techniques are in development.

The domestication of the European rabbit in southern Europe or Northern Africa in Roman times has led to a close connection between people and rabbits. The domestic rabbit now has over 100 varieties and serves as a lovable pet, and breeding stock for meat and fur.

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