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Sat, 23 Apr 2022

New study questions dingo culling

Dingo
Sandy the desert dingo who was part of the study. Image: Barry Eggleton.

Scientists say dingoes are genetically distinct from domestic dogs and may play different roles within the ecosystem – calling into question the wisdom of culling them.

Associate Professor Matt Field from JCU’s Centre for Tropical Bioinformatics and Molecular Biology co-led a study that compared the dingo genome to that of five domestic dogs. He said while dogs are uniquely associated with human dispersal, dingoes are an intriguing case, being geographically isolated for thousands of years.

“We think dingoes arrived in Australia 5000 to 8500 years ago whereas the first domestic dogs weren’t brought to Australia until 1788. With the expansion of settlement, domestic dog DNA has mixed with the dingo gene pool. To what extent is the question,” said Dr Field.

The scientists compared the genome of a desert dingo to that of a Boxer, a German Shepherd, a Basenji, a Great Dane and a Labrador Retriever.

“Our results suggest that distinct demographic and environmental conditions have shaped the dingo genome. In contrast, artificial human selection has likely shaped the genomes of domestic breed dogs after divergence from the dingo,” said Dr Field.

He said this reinforces the view that the dingo genome is structurally and evolutionarily distinct from domestic breed dogs, which may translate into functional differences in the ecosystem.

“Dingoes often consume the most abundant species in native eco- systems, including marsupials and reptiles with high protein, low fat and low carbohydrate content.

“In contrast, it seems likely that domestic dog evolution is shaped by feeding on starch-rich diets in the Neolithic period, high-fat diets during the agricultural revolution and by artificial selection for breed-specific traits,” said Dr Field.

He said the inability to identify pure dingoes solely from their appearance and behaviour has led to a debate on their role in the ecosystem.

“This leads to politicians questioning the value of conservation efforts of this ancient dog. Focused studies examining the roles of pure dingoes in the ecosystem and the consequences of hybridisation are urgently required,” said Dr Field.

Dr. Field co-led this study with Professor Bill Ballard at LaTrobe University. This work represents a truly global effort with 25 collaborators from 10 institutes spanning 4 countries.

Contacts

Associate Professor Matt Field
E: matt.field@jcu.edu.au