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Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

In groups of two to five individuals, volcano rabbits live in runways and burrows that may be as long as five metres and as much as 40 centimetres wide underground, with the entrance concealed at the base of a clump of zacaton bunch grass (4). This species is thought to be able to breed throughout the year, but with a peak during the warm, rainy summer months from March to early July (4). After a gestation period of around 40 days (4), one to two young are born per litter, although some litters may contain three young (7). The infants remain in the nest for two weeks and begin to eat solid food and move after three (4). In captivity, young have been recorded as independent at 25 to 30 days after birth (8). Volcano rabbits are mostly crepuscular (4), although they can also be active by day, particularly when the sky is overcast (8). The diet includes the tender green leaves of grasses, the young leaves of spiny herbs, the bark of alder trees and, during the rainy season, also the oats and corn from cultivated crops (4).
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Description

One of the smallest rabbits in the world, this tiny species has very short ears, legs and feet, and only a barely-visible, vestigial tail (2) (4). The short, dense coat is dark brown tinged with yellow on the back and sides, light buff with grey under-fur on the underside, and buff-coloured at the base of the ears (4). This dark colouration blends well with the volcanic soils of the species' habitat and may serve to protect it from predators. The coat is shed once a year (5).
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Distribution

Range Description

Romerolagus diazi is endemic to Mexico, restricted to the Transverse Neovolcanic Belt, mainly in discontinuous patches on four volcanoes (Popocatepetl, Iztaccihuatl, El Pelado, and Tlaloc) (Fa and Bell 1990), spanning approximately 386 km² (Velazquez 1994). R. diazi has apparently disappeared from some of its historical range in the central Transverse Neovolcanic Belt, including the eastern slopes of Iztaccihuatl and the Nevada de Toluca (Fa and Bell 1990). There is an approximate extent of occurrence of 1,841 sq. km (Cuaron and de Grammont pers. comm.). The range of R. diazi is becoming smaller and increasingly fragmented as a result of human induced and natural causes (Velazquez et al. 1993).

R. diazi occurs between 2,800 m and 4,250 m in elevation (Fa and Bell 1990), but occurs at the highest density between 3,150 m and 3,400 m (Velazquez 1994).
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Geographic Range

Romerolagus diazi is native to the Chichinautzin range of extinct volcanoes 200 miles south of Mexico City. Primarily, they live in a 280 sq. km region spread across the slopes of the mountains Pelado, Tialoc, Popocatepetl and Ixtaccíhuatl. Romerolagus diazi is endemic to the Chichinautzin Mountains.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

  • Bell, D., J. Fa. 1990. Rabbits, Hares and Pikas: status survey and conservation action plan. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN. Accessed April 04, 2011 at http://data.iucn.org/dbtw-wpd/edocs/1990-010.pdf.
  • Hoffman, R. 1990. Romerolagus Diazi. Mammalian Species, 360: 1-7.
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Historic Range:
Mexico

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Range

The volcano rabbit is endemic to Mexico and is restricted to the central part of the Mexican Transverse Neovolcanic Belt (TNB). Populations are currently restricted to three patchily distributed areas on the slopes of just four volcanoes (Popocatepetl, Iztaccihuatl, El Pelado and Tlaloc) (1) (6).
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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

Romerolagus diazi has small, short hind legs and feet; small, rounded ears; and a vestigial tail. Dorsal and lateral fur is yellowish brown, and individual hairs are black at the tips and base, resulting in a grizzled appearance. The venter is buff or light grey. Like all members of the family Leporidae, it has large, well positioned eyes that give it a broad viewing range. It is considered the most primitive of extant leporids and is often described as the second smallest leporid behind Brachylagus idahoensis. Romerolagus diazi is sexually dimorphic, with males weighing on average 417 g and females, 536 g. Newborns are altricial and have closed eyes, laid-back ears, and extremely fine brown fur at birth. The vestigial tail is visible in newborns, but not in adults. Romerolagus diazi bears a striking resemblance to members of the family Ochotonidae, and its skull resembles that of Ochotonidae, as both lack an anterior bony projection above the eye socket.

Range mass: 386 to 602.5 g.

Range length: 234 to 321 mm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: female larger

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Type Information

Type for Romerolagus diazi
Catalog Number: USNM 57949
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Mammals
Sex/Stage: Male; Adult
Preparation: Skin; Skull
Collector(s): E. Nelson & E. Goldman
Year Collected: 1894
Locality: Mount Popocatepetl, [W slope (see Miller and Rehn 1901:177)], Mexico, North America
Elevation (m): 3353
  • Type: Merriam, C. H. 1896 Dec 29. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. 10: 173.
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Romerolagus diazi is a habitat specialist (Velazquez et al. 1993). It is found at its highest density in a subalpine habitat containing bunchgrass (“zacaton”) and pine communities (Velazquez et al. 1993). In areas where bunchgrass is less abundant, they give birth in cracks and abandoned burrows (Velazquez et al. 1993). It is unlikely that R. diazi constructs burrows of its own (Fa and Bell 1990).

The diet of R. diazi is not well known, but local reports indicate that the species feeds upon the young leaves of grasses and some spiny herbs (Fa and Bell 1990). Gestation time for this species is 38-40 (Cervantes et al. 1990). R. diazi may be reproductively active year round with peak breeding season occurring "during the warm, rainy summer" (Cervantes et al. 1990). Adults of a captive breeding program weighed 400-600 g, with birth weights for females 25-27 g and males 32 g (Matsuzaki et al. 1982). Total length of newborns ranges from 8.3-10.6 cm (Cervantes et al. 1990). Mean total length of adults ranges between 26.8-32.0 (Cervantes et al. 1990).

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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Romerolagus diazi lives on the upper slopes of an extinct volcanic range south of Mexico City, ranging from 2800 m to 4250 m, and an average elevation of 3252 m. Although it is near the equator and in the tropics, conditions are temperate as a result of high altitude and local weather patterns. Winters constitute the dry season, and summers are exceptionally rainy. Aside from the wet and dry seasons, conditions are relatively stable throughout the year, leaving a long growing season, with an average temperature of 9.6 C. Vegetation throughout consists of tall zacatón bunch grass under sparse pine and alder coverage. Romerolagus diazi relies heavily on these grasses for survival and evasion of predators. It can also be found in dense patches of secondary forest.

Range elevation: 2800 to 4250 m.

Average elevation: 3252 m.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: forest ; scrub forest ; mountains

Other Habitat Features: agricultural

  • Chapman, J. 1984. Latitude and Gestation period in New World rabbits (Leporidae: Sylvilagus and Romerolagus). The American Nautralist, 124 No. 3: 442-445. Accessed March 13, 2011 at http://www.jstor.org.proxy.lib.umich.edu/stable/2461471.
  • Chisholm, H. 1911. The Encyclopaedia britannica: A dictionary of arts, sciences, literature, and general information, Eleventh edition, Volume 23. New York, NY, USA: The Encyclopaedia Britannica Company.
  • Lopez-Paniagua, J. 1992. Habitat use by parapatric rabbits in a Mexican high-altitude grassland system. Journal of Applied Ecology, 29: 357-370.
  • Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World Sixth Edition. Baltimore, MD, USA: John Hopkins University Press.
  • Velazquez, A., G. Heil. 1996. Habitat suitability study for the conservation of the volcano rabbit (Romerolagus diazi). Journal of Applied Ecology, 33: 543-554. Accessed March 13, 2011 at http://www.jstor.org.proxy.lib.umich.edu/stable/2404983.
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Found between 2,800 and 4,250 metres above sea level in pine forests with dense undergrowth of bunch grasses (primarily zacaton grass) and rocky substrate (4). Most of the areas in which the rabbit is found experience winter drought and summer rains (1).
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Trophic Strategy

Food Habits

Romerolagus diazi feeds primarily on zacaton grass, but also consumes young herbs and bark. During the summer rainy season, it sometimes feeds on cultivated plants. In captivity, R. diazi eats zacaton grasses provided in their enclosure, as well as other traditional rabbit foods, including high-protein chinchilla pellets, fruits, grasses, and other vegetable material. Young R. diazi begin eating solid food at 15 to 16 days after birth and are completely weaned by 3 weeks of age. Similar to other lagomorphs, R. diazi sometimes consumes their feces as a method of retaining as much nutrition and water as possible. Specific plant species eaten by R. diazi include aromatic mint plant, numerous species of zacaton grass (Festuca amplissima, Stipa ichu, Epicampes), two genera of spiny grass (Erynigium and Cyrsium), lady's mantle, and Museniopsis arguta.

Plant Foods: leaves; wood, bark, or stems; seeds, grains, and nuts; flowers

Other Foods: dung

Primary Diet: herbivore (Folivore ); coprophage

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Associations

Ecosystem Roles

Little is known of the ecological role that Romerolagus diazi fills in its ecosystem. It is a folivore and may disperse seeds throughout its habitat. This species is prey for bobcats, long-tailed weasels, coyotes, red-tailed hawks and probably a number of other carnivorous mammals and birds. Romerolagus diazi is host to a number of endoparasites including roundworms (Boreostrongylus romerolagi, Thichostrongylus calcaratus, Longistrata dubia, Dermatoxys veligera), whipworms (Trichuris leporis), and flatworms (Anoplocephaloides romerolagi). It is also host to a number of ectoparasites, including various species of flies, ticks, and fleas.

Commensal/Parasitic Species:

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Predation

Romerolagus diazi lacks the speed of many of its close relatives. Instead, it relies on finding cover in the grasses and rocks of its habitat. To protect their young, female volcano rabbits create burrows in and around patches of zacaton grass, digging slightly into the ground and reinforcing these burrows with the nearby grasses to offer both shelter and security. Romerolagus diazi has also been observed to make noise vocally when threatened. Major predators of this species include long-tailed weasels, bobcats, coyotes, and red-tailed hawks.

Known Predators:

Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Communication and Perception

Romerolagus diazi is the only member of family Leporidae that is known to vocalize, reacting to help their young and making noises themselves when startled, similar to pikas. They make two different types of calls: a short high-pitched bark, and a more subtle, slightly less audible squeak. They also communicate through thumping their hind feet on the ground. Reproductive status is communicated via scent glands located on the chin and groin.

Communication Channels: acoustic ; chemical

Other Communication Modes: pheromones ; scent marks

Perception Channels: visual ; acoustic

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Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

While there is no data on the lifespan of Romerolagus diazi, similar species have been observed to live less than a year in the wild. Some lagomorphs, however, may live up to 12 years in the wild.

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Reproduction

Only captive Romerolagus diazi have been observed during mating. Thus, no data are available concerning mating systems of wild populations. It communicates with conspecifics via scent glands under the chin and in their groin, and scent glands likely play a significant role in mating and signaling social status to conspecifics. In captivity, R. diazi is serially monogamous (e.g., multiple pair bondings). Mate access is determined by social status, and only the dominant female and dominant male mate. If either individual dies, however, they are replaced by the highest ranking individual in the hierarchy.

Mating System: monogamous

Breeding occurs year round in Romerolagus diazi but peaks during spring. Females have induced ovulation and in captivity reach sexual maturity by 8 months old. Captive males reach sexual maturity by 5 months old. Gestation lasts for 38 to 40 days and results in 1 to 4 offspring per litter, which weigh about 80 g per kitten. Females can have 4 to 5 litters per year. Typically, offspring are weaned by 3 weeks of age.

Breeding interval: Romerolagus diazi can mate 4 to 5 times per year

Breeding season: Breeding in Romerolagus diazi occurs year-round, but peaks in spring and early summer

Range number of offspring: 1 to 4.

Average number of offspring: 4.

Range gestation period: 38 to 42 days.

Average gestation period: 39 days.

Average birth mass: 80 g.

Average weaning age: 3 weeks.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 8 months.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 5 months.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); induced ovulation ; fertilization ; viviparous

Little is known of parental care in Romerolagus diazi in the wild. In captivity, mothers nurse semi-altricial young until weaning is complete at around 3 weeks of age. In the wild, R. diazi digs shallow holes in clumps of zacaton bunch grass, which hide nests and protect young. Nests consist primarily of vegetation fragments and fur. In captivity, R. diazi females avoid their nests unless young vocalize distress calls.

Parental Investment: altricial ; female parental care ; pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female)

  • Chapman, J. 1984. Latitude and Gestation period in New World rabbits (Leporidae: Sylvilagus and Romerolagus). The American Nautralist, 124 No. 3: 442-445. Accessed March 13, 2011 at http://www.jstor.org.proxy.lib.umich.edu/stable/2461471.
  • Chisholm, H. 1911. The Encyclopaedia britannica: A dictionary of arts, sciences, literature, and general information, Eleventh edition, Volume 23. New York, NY, USA: The Encyclopaedia Britannica Company.
  • Hoffman, R. 1990. Romerolagus Diazi. Mammalian Species, 360: 1-7.
  • Hoth, J., H. Granados. 2007. A preliminary report on the breeding of the Volcano rabbit Romerolagus diazi at the Chapultepec Zoo, Mexico City. International Zoo Yearbook, 26: 261-265. Accessed March 13, 2011 at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.proxy.lib.umich.edu/doi/10.1111/j.1748-1090.1987.tb03169.x/abstract.
  • Macdonald, D. 2001. The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World Sixth Edition. Baltimore, MD, USA: John Hopkins University Press.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Romerolagus diazi

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 3
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
EN
Endangered

Red List Criteria
B2ab(i,ii,iii,v)

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2008

Assessor/s
Mexican Association for Conservation and Study of Lagomorphs (AMCELA), Romero Malpica, F.J., Rangel Cordero, H., de Grammont, P.C. & Cuarón, A.D.

Reviewer/s
Smith, A.T. & Boyer, A.F. (Lagomorph Red List Authority)

Contributor/s

Justification
Romerolagus diazi is endemic to a small region of Mexico, with an area of occupancy of approximately 386 km² (Velazquez 1994). This range is becoming increasingly fragmented and the area of available suitable habitat is decreasing (Velazquez et al. 1993).

History
  • 1996
    Endangered
  • 1994
    Endangered
    (Groombridge 1994)
  • 1990
    Endangered
    (IUCN 1990)
  • 1988
    Endangered
    (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1988)
  • 1986
    Endangered
    (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1986)
  • 1982
    Endangered
    (Thornback and Jenkins 1982)
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Current Listing Status Summary

Status: Endangered
Date Listed: 06/02/1970
Lead Region: Foreign (Region 10) 
Where Listed: Mexico


Population detail:

Population location: Mexico
Listing status: E

For most current information and documents related to the conservation status and management of Romerolagus diazi , see its USFWS Species Profile

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Romerolagus diazi lives immediately south of Mexico City, one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world containing nearly 21 million inhabitants. As a result, while populations are listed as increasing by IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species, growth and sprawl of the city continues to threaten the habitat of R. diazi. In addition to urban sprawl, other major threats include habitat fragmentation and destruction due to wild fires and agriculture. Recently, R. diazi has increased, likely due to protective legislation focused on habitat preservation. Additionally, part of their range is within protected national parks. Currently, around 7000 individuals are estimated to exist in the wild.

US Federal List: endangered

CITES: appendix i

State of Michigan List: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: endangered

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Status

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1), and listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).
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Population

Population
A 1994 study on El Pelado used fecal pellet counts and direct censusing by line transect (on horseback) to estimate population size and concluded that the population size of R. diazi was between 2,478 and 12,120 individuals, recommending the smaller number be considered for conservation purposes due to broad confidence limits (Velazquez 1994).

Population Trend
Increasing
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Threats

Major Threats
Romerolagus diazi is threatened by habitat destruction, caused by livestock grazing, agriculture and property development encroachment, logging, harvest of the “zacaton” grasses, and forest fire (98% of which are started by humans attempting to encourage new pasture growth) (Fa and Bell 1990). The range of R. diazi exists within 45 minutes of one of the world’s largest cities (Mexico D. F.) and urban expansion has resulted in habitat loss (Fa and Bell 1990). Habitat loss has been estimated at 15-20% over the last three generations (Cuaron and de Grammont pers. comm.).

Fragmentation of R. diazi habitat is caused by contiguous habitat loss and by highway construction, causing the fragmented populations to become genetically isolated, increasing their risk of local extinction from random processes (Velazquez et al. 1993).

Though hunting is illegal, it continues because of lack of local knowledge of its protected status, and lack of enforcement (Cervantes et al. 1990, Fa and Bell 1990).
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This scarce, little-known rabbit has recently disappeared from many areas in central Mexico where it had previously been reported, largely as a result of habitat destruction and hunting for sport, which continue to pose an ever-present threat (1) (6). Habitat has been destroyed and degraded by intentional fires, overgrazing by cattle and sheep, over-exploitation of pine for timber, encroaching agriculture and property developments, and cutting of grasses for thatch and brush manufacture (1) (6). Nearly all fires are started by humans, often originating from people burning zacaton to promote new growth of pasture for cattle and sheep (6).
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
Romerolagus diazi is listed under Appendix I of CITES (1973), and hunting is illegal according to Mexican law, but poorly enforced (Fa and Bell 1990). R. diazi occurs within the protected areas Izta-Popo and Zoquiapan National Parks, but hunting, grazing, and grass burning persist within the park boundaries (Cervantes et al. 1990; Fa and Bell 1990; Velazquez et al. 1993).

Captive breeding programs have been established with some success, but infant mortality in captivity is very high (Fa and Bell 1990).

It is recommended that conservation measures focus on habitat management, particularly the control of burning and overgrazing of the bunchgrass “zacaton” habitat, and enforcement of the existing laws prohibiting hunting and trade of R. diazi (Fa and Bell 1990). Management of the protected areas should be improved and education plans at local, national, and international levels should be implemented (Fa and Bell 1990). Captive colonies, especially those in the zoos of Mexico, D. F., should be used to educate the public about the protected status of R. diazi (Fa and Bell 1990).
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Conservation

Hunting of the volcano rabbit is now illegal under Mexican law, but enforcement remains difficult. The species is found within two protected areas, Izta-Popo and Zoquiapan National Parks, but habitat destruction nevertheless continues to occur even within these areas (1) (6). In 1990, the World Conservation Union Species Survival Commission (IUCN/SSC) Lagomorph Specialist Group created an action plan for this rabbit, focusing on the need to manage burning and overgrazing and to enforce laws prohibiting the capture, sale and hunting of the animal (6). As a result, the population of volcano rabbits is higher now than a decade ago (7). Captive breeding colonies exist at Los Coyotes Park and the Chapultepec Zoo in Mexico City, but there are currently no plans to reintroduce captive-bred individuals into the wild (6) (7).
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Romerolagus diazi occasionally feeds on cultivated plants. If it were more abundant, it may have a significant negative affect on local agriculture.

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

There are no known positive effects of Romerolagus diazi on humans.

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