Down a Rabbit Hole: Burrowing Behaviour and Larger Home Ranges are Related to Larger Brains in Leporids

Orlin S. Todorov, Coen Hird, Brian Kraatz, Emma Sherratt, Narelle Hill, Alexandra A. de Sousa, Simone Blomberg, Vera Weisbecker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
11 Downloads (Pure)


Studies on the evolution of brain size variation usually focus on large clades encompassing broad phylogenetic groups. This risks introducing ‘noise’ in the results, often obscuring effects that might be detected in less inclusive clades. Here, we focus on a sample of endocranial volumes (endocasts) of 18 species of rabbits and hares (Lagomorpha: Leporidae), which are a discrete radiation of mammals with a suitably large range of body sizes. Using 60 individuals, we test five popular hypotheses on brain size and olfactory bulb evolution in mammals. We also address the pervasive issue of missing data, using multiple phylogenetic imputations as to conserve the full sample size for all analyses. Our analyses show that home range and burrowing behaviour are the only predictors of leporid brain size variation. Litter size, which is one of the most widely reported constraints on brain size, was unexpectedly not associated with brain size. However, a constraining effect may be masked by a strong association of litter size with temperature seasonality, warranting further study. Lastly, we show that unreasonable estimations of phylogenetic signal (Pagel’s lamba) warrant additional caution when using small sample sizes, such as ours, in comparative studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)957-967
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Mammalian Evolution
Issue number4
Early online date9 Sept 2022
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022


  • Brain evolution
  • Comparative methods
  • Leporids
  • Multiple imputation


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