“…no animal is more difficult to tame than the young of the wild rabbit; scarcely any animal is tamer than the young of the tame rabbit.” – Charles Darwin
A new breakthrough by an international team of scientists has shown that the domestication of rabbits is controlled largely by variances in the brain and nervous system.
Rabbits are of special interest when we talk about domestication and how it happens, mainly because the process was relatively recent and the location of its occurrence relatively small – and because that location is still filled with wild rabbits! Those facts make this type of domestication easier to study than, say, the domestication of dogs.
So, what can we learn from the study? The changes in behavior (which are very notable) between wild and tame rabbits primarily occur with small changes in lots of genes, rather than big changes in a few genes. The difference “is not which genes they carry, but how their genes are regulated.” Rarely does a gene in a domestic rabbit actually replace a gene found in a wild rabbit.
The team still has a lot to explore. Next, they’ll look at how genes in tamed rabbits might be back-selected when the rabbits are released into the wild.
Pretty cool stuff! Do you have a tamed rabbit? Tell us about your take on this study on our Facebook page.