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The myth of wild dogs in Australia: are there any out there?

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Hybridisation between wild and domestic canids is a global conservation and management issue. In Australia, dingoes are a distinct lineage of wild-living canid with a controversial domestication status. They are mainland Australia’s apex terrestrial predator. There is ongoing concern that the identity of dingoes has been threatened from breeding with domestic dogs, and that feral dogs have established populations in rural Australia. We collate the results of microsatellite DNA testing from 5039 wild canids to explore patterns of domestic dog ancestry in dingoes and observations of feral domestic dogs across the continent. Only 31 feral dogs were detected, challenging the perception that feral dogs are widespread in Australia. First generation dingo × dog hybrids were similarly rare, with only 27 individuals identified. Spatial patterns of genetic ancestry across Australia identified that dingo populations in northern, western and central Australia were largely free from domestic dog introgression. Our findings challenge the perception that dingoes are virtually extinct in the wild and that feral dogs are common. A shift in terminology from wild dog to dingo would better reflect the identity of these wild canids and allow more nuanced debate about the balance between conservation and management of dingoes in Australia.
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The myth of wild dogs in Australia: are there any out there?
Kylie M. Cairns
A
,
B
,
E
,Mathew S. Crowther
C
,Bradley Nesbitt
D
and
Mike Letnic
A
,
B
A
Centre for Ecosystem Science, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences,
University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia.
B
Evolution and Ecology Research Centre, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences,
University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia.
C
School of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia.
D
School of Environmental and Rural Science, University of New England, Armidale, NSW 2350, Australia.
E
Corresponding author. Email: k.cairns@unsw.edu.au
Abstract. Hybridisation between wild and domestic canids is a global conservation and management issue. In Australia,
dingoes are a distinct lineage of wild-living canid with a controversial domestication status. They are mainland Australia’s
apex terrestrial predator. There is ongoing concern that the identity of dingoes has been threatened from breeding with
domestic dogs, and that feral dogs have established populations in rural Australia. We collate the results of microsatellite
DNA testing from 5039 wild canids to explore patterns of domestic dog ancestry in dingoes and observations of feral
domestic dogs across the continent. Only 31 feral dogs were detected, challenging the perception that feral dogs are
widespread in Australia. First generation dingo dog hybrids were similarly rare, with only 27 individuals identified.
Spatial patterns of genetic ancestry across Australia identified that dingo populations in northern, western and central
Australia were largely free from domestic dog introgression. Our findings challenge the perception that dingoes are
virtually extinct in the wild and that feral dogs are common. A shift in terminology from wild dog to dingo would better
reflect the identity of these wild canids and allow more nuanced debate about the balance between conservation and
management of dingoes in Australia.
Keywords: admixture, Australia, Canis dingo,Canis familiaris, dingo, dog, domestication, feral dog, introgression, wild dog.
Received 17 August 2020, accepted 26 February 2021, published online 26 March 2021
Introduction
The occurrence of feral domestic dogs is rare, and distinct from
the close to a billion free-breeding or village dogs that exist
globally (Gompper 2013;Pilot et al. 2015). Free-breeding or
village dogs are those that live in and around human settlements,
rely upon anthropogenic food or water sources, breed freely with
each other, and are not owned or cared for by people (Hughes
and Macdonald 2013). Feral dogs are those that are living in a
wild state not in the vicinity of human settlements: they may be
escaped pets or self-sustaining populations. Empirical data from
remote living free-breeding dog populations suggests these
populations rely upon recruitment from stray or owned dogs
because their reproductive success is low, i.e. pups rarely
survive past 1 year (Boitani et al. 1995,2006). The only
acknowledged example of a true wild-living self-sustaining feral
dog population occurred in the Gala´pagos; it was founded by a
variety of breeds in the 1800s and persisted until the 1980s
(Barnett 1986;Reponen et al. 2014). Despite there being a
robust population of free-breeding or stray dogs associated with
towns in the Gala´pagos, there was limited evidence of mixing
between the free-breeding dog and feral dog populations based
on genetic analysis (Reponen et al. 2014). The Gala´pagos feral
dog population was eradicated using 1080 poisoning of water
and meat baits in the 1980s (Barnett 1986) and the population
did not re-establish despite the presence of free-breeding and pet
dogs in nearby human settlements.
Dingoes, including New Guinea singing dogs, form a discrete
lineage from Eurasian and modern domestic dogs (Bergstro¨m
et al. 2020;Surbakti et al. 2020;Cairns 2021). Their domestica-
tion status and taxonomic nomenclature is disputed, with some
considering them Canis familiaris, a feral domestic dog (Jackson
et al. 2017,2019) and others calling them Canis dingo, a wild
protodog (Crowther et al. 2014;Smith et al. 2019;Zhang et al.
2020). Globally, most free-breeding, village and breed dogs fall
within the modern domestic dog lineage (Bergstro¨m et al. 2020;
Surbakti et al. 2020;Cairns 2021). A close relationship between
dingoes, Asian wolves, and some East Asian dogs has been
observed, suggesting the dingoes’ ancestor was of Asian origin
(vonHoldt et al. 2010;Oskarsson et al. 2011;Freedman et al.
2014;Surbakti et al. 2020;Zhang et al. 2020;Cairns 2021).
Dingoes and New Guineasinging dogs are examples of true wild-
living dogs that are not reliant on artificial water or food sources.
CSIRO PUBLISHING
Australian Mammalogy
https://doi.org/10.1071/AM20055
Journal compilation Australian Mammal Society 2021 www.publish.csiro.au/journals/am
Dingoes fill the ecological role of terrestrial apex predator on
mainland Australia (Newsome et al. 2001;Letnic and Koch
2010;Letnic et al. 2012;Letnic et al. 2013;Morrant et al. 2017).
Molecular dating indicates that dingoes and New Guinea singing
dogs diverged from their ancestral population approximately
8000–12 000 years ago (Cairns and Wilton 2016;Cairns et al.
2017;Zhang et al. 2020). Dingoes remained reproductively
isolated from domestic dogs until 1788.
There is rising global concern about the occurrence of
hybridisation between wild and domestic canids or sympatric
wild canids (Gopalakrishnan et al. 2018;Salvatori et al. 2020;
vonHoldt and Aardema 2020). Hybridisation is the process of
interbreeding between two species or varieties, generally F1
offspring would be referred to as hybrids and the offspring of F1
hybrids with animals from a parental species or variety would be
called backcrosses. Interbreeding between varieties or species
results in the exchange or mixing of genetic material (genetic
admixture). The transfer of genetic material from one species
into another through hybridisation and backcrossing is called
introgression (Harrison and Larson 2014). The occurrence of
genetic admixture may be modern or historical, and in some
cases is the result of anthropogenic actions. In canids, the
phenomenon of interspecific introgression has been observed
between species such as grey wolves and dogs (Vila` and Wayne
1999;Anderson et al. 2009;vonHoldt et al. 2011,2016;
Schweizer et al. 2018), coyotes and wolves (Bohling et al.
2016;vonHoldt et al. 2016), red wolves and coyotes (Miller
et al. 2003;Adams et al. 2007;Schmutz et al. 2007;Bohling and
Waits 2015), jackals and dogs (Galov et al. 2015), dingoes and
dogs (Newsome and Corbett 1985;Wilton 2001;Claridge et al.
2014;Stephens et al. 2015;Cairns et al. 2019).
One of the concerns raised by hybridisation is genetic swamp-
ing, whereby the genetic identity of a population is threatened by
introgression of genes from another population or species. For
example, the Scottish wildcat is threatened by hybridisation and
subsequent introgression from domestic cats to the extent that
contemporary wildcat populations exhibit extensive levels of
domestic cat ancestry (Daniels et al. 1998;Kitchener et al. 2005;
Macdonald et al. 2010). Indeed, most wildcats in Scotland carry
significant domestic cat ancestry, and the occurrence of hybridisa-
tion is believed to have accelerated in the last 50–100 years
(Mattucci et al. 2019;Senn et al. 2019). Similar concerns have
been raised in Australia with many dingoes, particularly in
southeastern Australia, exhibiting genetic, morphological or
phenotypic evidence of domestic dog ancestry (Newsome and
Corbett 1985;Daniels and Corbett 2003;Jones 2009;Stephens
et al. 2015). There is also widespread concern that feral domestic
dogs have established in the wild across Australia (Fleming et al.
2001;NSW Threatened Species Scientific Committee 2009).
Since the 1980s rising concern about domestic dog ancestry
and the occurrence of hybridisation events has led to shifts in the
management and conservation status of dingoes but also a
duality in their identity. For example, in Victoria dingoes are
now listed as a threatened species, but wild dogs are listed as a
declared pest, where wild dogs are defined as feral or wild
populations of dogs (Canis familiaris) and dingo dog hybrids
(Canis dingo Canis familiaris)(DEPI 2013). In New South
Wales (NSW), the listing of ‘predation and hybridisation by
feral dogs (Canis familiaris)’ as a key threatening process
implies that dingoes are ‘under serious decline as a consequence
of hybridisation’ (NSW Threatened Species Scientific Commit-
tee 2009). Indeed, there has been concern in NSW that feral dogs
and dingo dog hybrids with low levels of dingo ancestry have
essentially replaced dingoes in the wild (Claridge et al. 2014;
Stephens et al. 2015). For example, the NSW key threatening
process determination states that ‘due to the constant influx of
Domestic Dogs into natural ecosystems, lasting eradication of
even local populations of Feral Dogs is difficult’ (NSW Threat-
ened Species Scientific Committee 2009). Accordingly, the term
‘wild dog’ is now used ubiquitously by state government and pest
control organisations when communicating about management
programs directed at controlling wild canids (Letnic 2012;
Kreplins et al. 2019). However, it is clear from social studies of
public perception and also expectations about the management of
dingoes vs wild dogs, that the general public believe the term wild
dog refers only to feral dogs and does not properly understand that
the term wild dog is defined as including dingoes, dingo dog
hybrids and feral dogs (van Eeden et al. 2020).
Before the 2000s a majority of our knowledge about
dingo dog hybridisation was based on assessment of skull
morphology and physical appearance (Newsome et al. 1980;
Newsome and Corbett 1985;Jones 1990;Corbett 2001;Fleming
et al. 2001). A microsatellite DNA test for assessing the ancestry
of dingoes was developed in 1999 (Wilton et al. 1999;Wilton
2001) and has since become widely used by wildlife managers
and conservation groups. Studies assessing the reliability of
morphological, physical and genetic methods of ancestry assess-
ment in dingoes have highlighted the importance of using
genetic data (Elledge et al. 2008;Parr et al. 2016). Stephens
et al. (2015) undertook microsatellite DNA testing of wild
canids across Australia and identified regional patterns of
domestic dog introgression in dingoes, with dog ancestry par-
ticularly prevalent in southeastern Australia. However, a major
limitation of Stephens et al. (2015) is the low number of samples
(95) from NSW. A more detailed study using the same genetic
markers and significantly higher density of sampling across
northeastern NSW identified several key hotspots of high dingo
ancestry (Cairns et al. 2019). Their finding that a majority of
wild dingoes in NSW were pure dingoes or carried more than
75% dingo ancestry is a stark contrast to the common public
perception that feral dogs are widespread and established in the
wild (NSW Threatened Species Scientific Committee 2009;
Claridge et al. 2014;ABC Landline 2019). Here we collate
and analyse genetic ancestry data based on microsatellite DNA
testing from 5039 samples to examine the occurrence of feral
dogs and F1 or F2 dingo dog hybrids across Australia.
Critically, this study includes a broader set of samples from
southeastern Australia including from southern NSW filling
knowledge gaps about the ancestry and identity of wild canids
in southeastern Australia. Spatial patterns of domestic dog
introgression across Australia are also examined using the
dataset. These data inform ongoing debate about the appropriate
terminology and management of wild canids in Australia.
Methods and materials
DNA testing based on a widely used 23 microsatellite marker set
was used to estimate dingo ancestry in Stephens et al. (2015),
BAustralian Mammalogy K. M. Cairns et al.
Cairns et al. (2019) and a previously unpublished dataset (available
in the BioStudies database under accession number S-BSST501
https://www.ebi.ac.uk/biostudies/studies/S-BSST501). Briefly, a
panel of 23 microsatellites were amplified and genotyped in
the wild canid samples based on the original methodology of
Wilton (2001) and Elledge (2008). Ancestry modelling was
performed in STRUCTURE with reference populations of
known dingoes and dogs using the admixture and correlated
allele frequency models. Cairns et al. (2019) and the unpub-
lished dataset used a set of 50 dingoes and 66 mixed breed dogs
as reference populations; to account for regional variation these
analyses included a set of 13 wild dingoes from northern and
western Australia. Stephens et al. (2015) used a set of 322 post-
priori identified reference dingoes and 102 domestic dogs. In all
three studies simulations were run with 200 000 iterations, a
20 000 iteration burn-in period and 10 replicates of each K ¼2
was performed. Previously, modelling demonstrated that K ¼2
was the appropriate model for assessing ancestry in Australian
wild canids and modelling was run with the USEPOPINFO flag
to allow population allele frequencies to be updated only from
the defined reference population individuals (Stephens et al.
2015;Cairns et al. 2019). STRUCTURE reports estimated
ancestry proportions (q-values) for each genetic cluster for each
sample (Stephens et al. 2015;Cairns et al. 2019). In a K ¼2
analysis each individual has a q-value for the domestic dog
cluster and for the dingo cluster. The dingo cluster q-value is
used to define animals as either a pure dingo, probable dingo,
dingo with .75% ancestry, dingo with 65–75% ancestry, dingo
with 50–65% ancestry, feral dog hybrid or feral domestic dog
(Table 1;Stephens et al. 2015;Cairns et al. 2019). We define
feral dog hybrids with a q-value between 0.25 and 0.49 to be
possible F1 or F2 dingo dog hybrids (Stephens et al. 2015;
Cairns et al. 2019). An F1 hybrid is defined as the offspring of a
dingo a dog and an F2 hybrid is the offspring of two F1
dingo dog hybrids.
Raw microsatellite data could not be compared because of
slightly different microsatellite amplification conditions. To
confirm that ancestry estimates were equivalent between Cairns
et al. (2019) and Stephens et al. (2015), a set of 13 wild canids
were genotyped and ancestry estimates calculated by both
laboratories (Table 2).
Between the three-studies DNA ancestry estimates from 5039
wild canids collected by trappers, wildlife managers and govern-
ment agencies across public and private lands in Australia were
reported. A majority of the wild canids were trapped/shot as part
of broadscale wild canid management to protect livestock from
predation. Samples from the three datasets were collected
between 1996 and 2014. We collated these DNA ancestry
estimates (STRUCTURE q-values) together with location coor-
dinates (Supplementary Material S1 dataset).
Table 1. Dingo purity categories and cut offs for average 3Q and STRUCTURE methods
Score Category Average 3Q
A
value and
doglike allele cut offs
STRUCTURE
B
average
q-value cut offs
1 Dingo 1 (dingo with no dog ancestry) 3Q .0.1 and no doglike alleles 1.0–0.90
2 Dingo 2 (likely dingo with no dog ancestry) 0.05 ,3Q ,0.1 and #1 doglike alleles 0.89–0.80
3 Dingo with dog ancestry 1 (.75% dingo) 0 ,3Q ,0.05 0.79–0.70
4 Dingo with dog ancestry 2 (65–75% dingo) 0.1 ,3Q ,0 0.69–0.60
5 Dingo with dog ancestry 3 (50–64% dingo) 0.25 ,3Q ,0.1 0.59–0.50
6 Feral dog with dingo ancestry (,50% dingo) 0.5 ,3Q ,0.25 0.49–0.25
7 Feral dog 3Q ,0.5 0.24–0.0
A
According to Wilton (2001) and Wilton et al. (1999).
B
According to Stephens et al. (2015).
Table 2. Comparison of STRUCTURE q-value ancestry estimates for 13 repeated samples from Stephens et al. (2015) and Cairns et al. (2019)
Ancestry modelling from Cairns et al. (2019) Ancestry modelling from Stephens et al. (2015) Difference between
Cairns et al. (2019) and
Stephens et al. (2015) q-value
ID # markers dingo ancestry
(q-value)
ID # markers dingo ancestry
(q-value)
W0021 23 0.87 wdi0053 23 0.83 0.04
W0022 22 0.88 wdi0163 23 0.89 –0.01
W0023 22 0.94 wdi0627 23 0.93 0.01
W0024 23 0.92 wdi0840 21 0.99 –0.07
W0025 22 0.89 wdi1736 23 0.96 –0.07
W0026 22 0.92 wdi1811 23 0.89 0.03
W0027 23 0.92 wdi1884 23 0.94 –0.02
W0028 22 0.77 wdi2397 23 0.77 0.00
W0029 22 0.96 di0910 23 0.92 0.04
W0030 23 0.89 di1050 23 0.9 –0.01
W0031 23 0.89 di1270 23 0.88 0.01
W0033 22 0.94 de013 22 0.94 0.00
W0034 23 0.92 de017 22 0.94 –0.02
The wild dog myth Australian Mammalogy C
The distribution of feral dogs with no dingo ancestry and
possible F1 or F2 dingo dog hybrids was mapped using QGIS
ver. 3.01 (QGIS 2020). We also explore the distribution of
dingoes with varying degrees of dog ancestry across Australia as
follows: the location of 5039 samples with DNA ancestry results
were mapped in QGIS, a 0.3 0.3 degree hexagonal grid was
drawn and the mean and median ‘q-score’ of the samples within
each grid cell was calculated (using the join attributes by
location tool). We also mapped the occurrence of feral dogs
with no dingo ancestry and possible F1 or F2 dingo dog
hybrids across Australia.
Results
We collated the ancestry results of 3641 samples from Stephens
et al. (2015), 753 samples from Cairns et al. (2019) and 611
samples from the unpublished dataset. Ancestry estimates were
consistent between Stephens et al. (2015) and Cairns et al. (2019)
based on comparison of results for 13 repeated samples (Table 2).
Out of 5039 samples that were DNA tested the breakdown
of dingo ancestry results are as follows: 33.7% pure dingoes,
30.4% probable dingoes, 19.8% greater than75% dingo ancestry,
11.7% greater than 65% dingo ancestry and 3.2% greater than
50% dingo ancestry (Table 3). Feral dogs and F1 or F2 dingo-dog
hybrids were rarely collected from the wild and made up less
than 1.2% of the wild canid population (Table 3). In total, only
31 feral dogs with no evidence of dingo ancestry were observed
and27probableF1orF2dingodog hybrids (q-value between
0.25 and 0.49) were identified in the sample. The occurrence of
dog introgression differed between states (Fig. 1) and was more
prevalent in southeastern Australia.
Table 3. Ancestry of 5039 wild canids across Australia according to STRUCTURE modelling by Stephens et al. (2015),Cairns et al. (2019) and
this study
Category WA SA NT Qld NSW Vic. ACT Australia
Dingo 1 (dingo with
no dog ancestry)
61.9% (1414) 34.5% (51) 88.2% (112) 21.9% (78) 2.2% (29) 1.1% (8) 5.8% (6) 33.7% (1698)
Dingo 2 (likely dingo
with no dog ancestry)
35.0% (799) 56.8% (84) 10.2% (13) 46.6% (166) 23.8% (314) 16.8% (118) 35.6% (37) 30.4% (1531)
Dingo 1 and 2 (dingoes
with no dog ancestry
detected)
96.9% (2213) 91.2% (135) 98.4% (125) 68.5% (244) 26% (343) 17.9% (126) 41.3% (43) 64.1% (3229)
Dingo with dog ancestry
1(.75% dingo)
2.3% (52) 8.8% (13) 0.8% (1) 23.6% (84) 39.5% (521) 40.5% (284) 41.3% (43) 19.8% (998)
Dingo with dog ancestry
2 (65–75% dingo)
0.02% (1) 0 0.8% (1) 4.8% (17) 25.6% (337) 32.1% (225) 10.6% (11) 11.7% (592)
Dingo with dog ancestry
3 (50–64% dingo)
0.02% (1) 0 0 2.2% (8) 7.4% (97) 7.7% (54) 1.9% (2) 3.2% (162)
Feral dog with dingo
ancestry (,50% dingo)
0.2% (5) 0 0 0.6% (2) 0.9% (12) 1.1% (8) 0 0.5% (27)
Feral dog 0.5% (12) 0 0 0.3% (1) 0.6% (8) 0.7% (5) 4.8% (5) 0.6% (31)
WA
0
10
20
30
40
50
60
70
80
90
100
SA NT Qld NSW Vic. ACT
Feral dog (no dingo)
Feral dog (<50% dingo)
Dingo (>50% dingo)
Dingo (>65% dingo)
Dingo (>75% dingo)
Pure dingo (1 and 2)
Fig. 1. Proportion of Australian wild canids that were pure dingoes, dingoes with domestic dog introgression, possible F1 dingo dog
hybrids, and feral domestic dogs, by state.
DAustralian Mammalogy K. M. Cairns et al.
Mapping of wild canid ancestry across Australia indicates that
domestic dog introgression is largely restricted to southeastern
Australia (Fig. 2; Supplementary Material S2). Across northern,
central and western Australia,the dingo population is genetically
intact, i.e. with limited or no domestic dog introgression. In
southeastern Australia there are regions with dingo populations
that are genetically intact (Fig. 2) and most populations maintain
a dingo-dominant identity (median ancestry is greater than 75%
dingo). Feral dogs were restricted mostly to southeastern Aus-
tralia and were captured in relatively close proximity to human
settlements (Fig. 2). Interestingly, no feral dogs were identified in
central Australia.
Discussion
Extensive DNA testing across Australia detected very few feral
dogs. Out of the 5039 wild canids that were sampled just 31
(0.61%) were inferred to be feral dogs (Table 3). Similarly, there
were only 27 animals identified as likely F1 or F2 dingo dog
hybrids. Contrary to widespread understanding, our results show
that feral dogs and feral dog dingo hybrids were very rare
across mainland Australia. This suggests that feral dogs have not
established a self-sustaining population in the wild and that inter-
breeding between dingoes and dogs may occur infrequently.
Our finding that feral dogs were rare and are unlikely to have
established a self-sustaining population on mainland Australia is
backed up by the rarity of true feral dog populations globally. In
Tasmania, there is a similar mix of European derived dog breeds
to mainland Australia and a similar environment to southeastern
Australia but there is little evidence that a feral dog population
has become established (DPIPWE 2013). The rarity of true feral
dogs both globally and in Australia suggests that domestic dogs
have not retained the ability to persist in the wild in the absence
of anthropogenic derived resources. Indeed, the Gala´ pagos
remains an isolated exemplar of domestic dogs establishing a
feral population (Barnett 1986;Reponen et al. 2014). However,
free breeding (‘village or camp dogs’) that rely on anthropogenic
food and water sources are of widespread occurrence in many
regions of the world (Gompper 2013;Home et al. 2018).
In Australia, free-breeding dogs are largely restricted to the
fringes of Indigenous communities (Collins and Mills 2013;
Newsome et al. 2013,2014;Hudson et al. 2018;Brookes et al.
2020;Ma et al. 2020).
Our collation of DNA ancestry testing results suggests that
most wild canids in Australia are pure dingoes (Fig. 1). Dog
introgression is uncommon in Western Australia, the Northern
Territory and South Australia, with more than of 90% of dingoes
tested in those states being pure dingoes. Of the dingoes which did
show domestic dog introgression, most carried more than 75%
dingo ancestry. No F1 or F2 dingo dog hybrids were observed in
the Northern Territory or South Australia. In Queensland, 68.5%
of wild canids were pure dingoes and a majority of the remaining
carried greater than 75% dingo ancestry. Only 7% of wild canids
in Queensland were less than 65% dingo, and 0.8% were feral
dogs or possible F1 or F2 dingo domestic dog hybrids.
As highlighted by Stephens et al. (2015), dog introgression is
most widespread in southeastern Australia (Fig. 2). Despite this,
the occurrence of possible F1 or F2 dingo dog hybrids was low
in southeastern Australia, making up less than 2% of the total
population inthese regions.It may be that dingo dog hybridisa-
tion events are rare in the wild or that the survival of wild canids
with less than 50% dingo ancestry is poor. The widespread
introgression of dog genes in southeastern Australia may reflect
backcrossing of F1 dingo dog hybrids, facilitating the spread of
dog genes into the wider dingo population over long periods of
time rather than a high occurrence of dingo dog hybridisation in
the wild. As emphasised by Stephens et al. (2015), dog introgres-
sion in dingoes may be more common in southeastern Australia
due to the earlier and more intensive European settlement,
resulting in increased contact between domestic dogs and dingoes
in these regions. Cairns et al. (2019) added that the widespread
occurrence of intensive lethal control, particularly aerial baiting,
may increase the likelihood of dingo dog hybridisation by
(a)
Pure dingo
Dingo (>75% ancestry)
Dingo (65–75% ancestry)
Dingo (50–65% ancestry)
No samples present
0 250 500 750 1000 km 0 250 500 750 1000 km
Feral dog (no dingo ancestry)
Feral dog (possible F1 dingo ×
dog hybrid)
Feral dog (no dingo ancestry)
Feral dog (possible F1 dingo ×
dog hybrid)
(b)
Fig. 2. Spatial patterns of dingo ancestry across Australia based on microsatellite DNA testing. (a) Median ancestry calculated for all samples within
each hex grid. As the results were consistent between mean and median ancestry, the map depicting mean ancestry is presented in Supplementary
Material S2. (b) Distribution of 31 feral domestic dogs and 27 feral dog hybrids (possible F1 or F2 dingo dog hybrids) across Australia. The positions
of the national dingo exclusion fence and the Western Australian dingo exclusion fence are depicted by solid black lines.
The wild dog myth Australian Mammalogy E
fracturing dingo social structures. Although this admixture from
dogs into the dingo population is a concern, it is important to note
that the dingo population still maintains a genetically and
morphologically dingo dominantidentity (Parr et al. 2016;Cairns
et al. 2019;Crowther et al. 2020).
There are several key knowledge gaps about the identity of
dingoes in Australia that bear consideration. First, we still lack
information about the genetic identity of dingoes across large
regions of Australia, particularly central and northern Australia
(Fig. 2). Morphological research about the phenotype of dingoes
with low levels of dog ancestry may assist on-ground manage-
ment and conservation efforts, particularly if distinguishing
features could be identified. Management plans should be
careful not to assume that a given population does or does not
carry domestic dog ancestry without the necessary genetic data.
Despite this, the broad pattern of dingo ancestry across Australia
suggests that in western, central and northern Australia, dog
introgression is likely to be limited and feral dogs extremely
rare. There is some concern that current microsatellite testing
methods may be biased by regional genetic variation within
dingoes (Cairns et al. 2017,2019). It is important to consider that
ancestry testing methods rely on the assumption that dingoes
form a single homogeneous population (Elledge et al. 2008;
Stephens et al. 2015;Cairns et al. 2019), an assumption we now
know to be false (Cairns and Wilton 2016;Cairns et al. 2018;
Koungoulos 2020). Robust dingo ancestry assessments require
broad sampling across Australia to capture regional genetic
variation (Cairns et al. 2019). Possibly some dingoes are mis-
classified as hybrids because of regional variation. As argued by
Cairns et al. (2019), the type and number of genetic markers
limits accuracy of genetic testing and estimates based on 23
microsatellites may not reflect genome-wide ancestry. Genome-
wide SNP genotyping may offer a cost-effective and high-
throughput alternative to address the limitations of microsatel-
lite genetic testing in the future. Thus, we caution managers and
researchers to evaluate the reliability of ancestry estimates and
urge end-users to explore technology improvements for ancestry
testing into the future.
There has been ongoing debate about the appropriate termi-
nology for wild canids in Australia, i.e. dingo or wild dog (Letnic
2012). Kreplins et al. (2019) found that the term wild dog was
more commonly used in studies funded by livestock industry
organisations, compared to conservation-based studies which
predominately used the term dingo. van Eeden et al. (2020)
studied public understanding of the terms dingo and wild dog.
They found that only 19.1% of respondents were aware that wild
dog control programs targeted dingoes and furthermore respon-
dents were generally not supportive of lethal dingo manage-
ment. At the 2019 Royal Zoological Society of NSW
symposium titled ‘Dingo Dilemma’ there was strong opposition
to the term wild dog, with many participants asserting that the
term wild dog disguises lethal management practices on dingoes
from the public and hinders debate about dingo management in
Australia (Dickman 2019). We add that the term wild dog does
not accurately represent the ancestry of wild canids in Australia,
particularly as the dominant genetic identity is dingo and feral
domestic dogs are virtually absent from the landscape (Fig. 2).
Although there are dingoes carrying domestic dog ancestry,
particularly in southeastern Australia, there are few F1 or F2
hybrids. The term hybrid generally refers to only F1 crosses, i.e.
the offspring of a dingo and domestic dog but F2 animals which
are the offspring of two F1 hybrids may also be referred to as
hybrids (Hansson et al. 2012). We suggest that dingoes that carry
domestic dog ancestry but are not F1/F2 hybrids should be
referred to as dingo backcrosses or admixed dingoes.
The finding that feral dogs have not established populations
has implications for the management of wild canids in Australia.
Dingoes and stray or roaming domestic dogs can cause serious
impacts for livestock graziers (Fleming et al. 2001). Management
of feral, stray or roaming domestic dogs should focus on
responsible pet ownership including spaying and neutering of
pet animals, keeping pet and working dogs under control and
confined during the night. As feral dogs do not represent a
significant portion of the wild canid population, it should be
clear in legislation and policy that lethal control programs are
targeting dingoes (including admixed dingoes) rather than feral
dogs. Although hybridisation is a concern in southeastern Aus-
tralia (Stephens et al. 2015;Cairns et al. 2019), responsible pet
ownership and continued exclusion of domestic dogs from
National Parks and conservation areas can reduce the occurrence
of future dingo dog hybridisation events. The low number of
F1 or F2 hybrids detected indicates that dingo dog hybridisa-
tion events are uncommon. Despite historical domestic dog
introgression, the dingo population maintains a dingo dominant
identity, even in southeastern Australia (Fig. 1). It is possible that
widespread lethal control programs have increased the likelihood
of dingo dog hybridisation events and facilitating the spread of
introgressed dog genes into the wider dingo population. Lethal
control has been identified as a factor increasing the likelihood of
interspecific hybridisation in other wild canids including coyotes
and red wolves by fracturing social structures and altering
demographic patterns (Bohling and Waits 2015). Management
programs that maintain stable dingo social structures present a
better balance to managing the risks to stock predation and dingo
conservation (Allen 2014,2015;Wallach et al. 2017). Addition-
ally, lethal control programs should not occur during the dingo
breeding season (winter) as this may facilitate dingo dog
hybridisation events, by fracturing pack structures and reducing
the availability of dingo mates. Baiting has also been linked to an
increase in the body-size of dingoes, possibly increasing their
impact on livestock (Letnic and Crowther 2020).
The lack of public engagement and debate on dingo conser-
vation on private and public lands in Australia has allowed
agricultural industry priorities to dominate government policy
and decision making on dingo management. Social science
studies show the general public are largely unawareof the current
threats wild dog control programs have on the remaining dingo
populations in Australia (van Eeden et al. 2020). The lack of
engagement by the public on dingo conservation can in part be
attributed to the renaming of the Australian dingo as a wild dog in
government literature and allowing the general misunderstanding
that all wild dogs are feral dogs to persist. We propose that a
terminology shift is required to reflect the identity of wild canids
in Australia: the term dingo needs to be reinstatedbecause genetic
testing demonstrates that a majority of animals are of high dingo
ancestry and feral dogs are virtually absent. The term wild dog
does not reflect the ancestry of wild canids in Australia and is
poorly understood by the public, it should be retired from use.
FAustralian Mammalogy K. M. Cairns et al.
Conflicts of interest
KMC is a scientific advisor to the Australia Dingo Foundation,
New Guinea Singing Dog Conservation Society and New
Guinea Highland Wild Dog Foundation.
Declaration of funding
KMC is supported by research funding from the Australian
Dingo Foundation.
Acknowledgements
The authors thank Barry Traill, Angus Emmott and David Pollock for the
impetus to write this paper following discussions at the RZS Dingo Dilemma
Symposium in 2019. We acknowledge the extensive work done by the late
Associate Professor Alan Wilton on this topic. The authors would also like to
thank two anonymous reviewers and the editor for their careful reading of
our manuscript and insightful comments that have improved this manuscript.
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www.publish.csiro.au/journals/am
The wild dog myth Australian Mammalogy I
... Hybridisation between wild and domestic taxa is nonetheless an increasing concern worldwide, and recent genome-wide studies have shown complex spatio-temporal hybridisation patterns in several species including Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar, Wringe et al., 2018), wild boar (Sus scrofa, Iacolina et al., 2018), sheep (Ovis sp., Cao et al., 2021), wildcat (Felis silvestris, Mattucci et al., 2019), and the dingo (referred to as Canis dingo, C. lupus dingo, or C. familiaris, van Eeden et al., 2019;Crowther et al., 2020). Humaninduced (anthropogenic) hybridisation generates difficult questions for conservation and management, including forensic, legal, and policy issues (Trouwborst, 2014;Amorim et al., 2020;Salvatori et al., 2020;Cairns et al., 2021a). Associated human-wildlife conflicts raise ethical concerns about wildlife control (Dubois et al., 2017;van Eeden et al., 2019) and protection of individual animals versus populations (Dubois et al., 2017;Wallach et al., 2018;Callen et al., 2020). ...
... A first study indicated no significant differences in diet composition compared to that of wolves (Bassi et al., 2017), and similar results have been reported for dingoes affected by domestic dog introgression ). Yet domestic dogs may not have the same ability to persist in remote areas without access to anthropogenic resources (Cairns et al., 2021a). Dingoes have been found to play a major ecological role by suppressing mesopredators and promoting the conservation of native small mammals (Letnic et al., 2009a(Letnic et al., , 2009b, and may thus provide key ecosystem services (Colman et al., 2014;van Eeden et al., 2020). ...
... Earlier findings suggest that the loss of breeding members may contribute to the break-up of wolf packs (Brainerd et al., 2008), and human-caused mortality and high population turnover can disrupt the social structure of wild canids and augment hybridisation (Wallach et al., 2009;Rutledge et al., 2012;Leonard et al., 2014;Randi et al., 2014;Cairns et al., 2021a). If human-caused mortality increases, this could augment hybridisation and generate further lethal control (van Eeden et al., 2019), thereby hampering the ecological function of wild canids. ...
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Hybridisation between wild and domestic taxa raises complex questions for conservation. Genetic advances offer new methods for hybrid identification, yet social and cultural factors can influence study design, and the interpretation, application, and communication of results. A relevant illustration is hybridisation between domestic dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) and wild canids, such as grey wolves (C. lupus). For regional European monitoring programs in areas with expanding wolf populations, priorities include shared genetic markers and inclusion of all relevant reference populations to ensure dispersing wolves are identified as such and not classified as wolf-dog hybrids, which may cause harmful management decisions. Beyond technical developments, hybrid research and conservation management can benefit from improved integration of legal and policy perspectives , recognition of phenotypic traits as broadly unreliable for identification, and attention to the drivers of, and responses to, evolution in human-dominated landscapes. Additionally, the proliferation of unsubstantiated reports about hybrids in popular and social media shows that communication based on verified findings of hybridisation is essential. Hybridisation requires more constructive discussion on how to balance potentially competing conservation objectives, and the integration of multidisciplinary perspectives. These encompass the welfare of individual animals and preservation of historical predator-prey relationships. Conservation measures centred on preserving the ecological function of wild canids likely offer the most sustainable prospects but require improved understanding of the extent to which their behavioural ecology might differ from that of hybrids. Accurate genetic identification is required to fill this critical knowledge gap, advance public discourse, and initiate relevant conservation actions.
... As semi-wild companions, they contributed to Aboriginal society as hunting assistants, waterfinders and guardians (Philip 2020). Despite this long association they retained their independence, remaining true to the description of wild living canines (Cairns et al. 2021), not reliant on human society for food or water, and exerting influence as apex predator on local flora and fauna (Fig. 8). ...
... All wild canine populations in Australia are predominantly of dingo heritage (see "The myth of wild dogs in Australia: are there any out there?" Cairns et al. 2021). Genetic testing indicates dingo populations in central Australia, and to the north and west of the continent, are largely free from introgression with domestic dogs. ...
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The longest environmental barrier in the world is Australia's 5614 km Dingo Barrier Fence. The structure was completed in the 1950s, designed to facilitate the eradication of the country's apex predator and cultural keystone species the dingo ( Canis dingo ) from sheep ( Ovis aries ) grazing areas to the south-east of the continent. The fence and its support systems now present an immense obstacle to ecological restoration in Australia's arid zone, preventing traditional management practices, and are hazardous to all terrestrial wildlife in the immediate vicinity. The barrier presents a worst-case scenario for animal-generated seed dispersal patterns over the wider region and limits genetic transfer. Plummeting biodiversity inside the fence line and increasing pressures of climate change have left this region highly vulnerable to ecological collapse. Concurrently, sheep numbers have contracted over 75% in the arid zone since 1991, due to market forces and climate change, while demand for ethically produced goods such as predator-friendly meat production and organic produce is increasing. Decommissioning the Dingo Barrier Fence, moving the stock protection zone south and diversifying land use would not impact significantly on the current livestock production. It offers a sound economic alternative for the region, with the potential for regeneration of 82 million hectares of land, a scale encouraged for inclusion in the global initiative the United Nations Decade for Ecosystem Reconstruction (2021–2030). This would restore connectivity across the region, including vital access to the waters of the Murray Darling Basin. This would provide mitigation for the effects of climate change, new markets in organic and sustainable industries, and support ecological and cultural renewal.
... Some studies [25,170,171] suggest that dingoes (a native canid; [172]), which are common in the region, have a role in controlling feral cats, and that dingoes are less of a threat to native fauna [61], although this relationship is also not clear [173]. Recent analyses of feral cat and dingo feces from Kakadu National Park have shown that dingoes consume a wide range of native mammals, and that they, coupled with feral cats, could have an impact on the small to medium mammals, especially in habitats disturbed by fire or grazing by introduced cattle [174]. ...
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Northern Australian biomes hold high biodiversity values within largely intact vegetation complexes, yet many species of mammals, and some other taxa, are endangered. Recently, six mammal species were added to the 20 or so already listed in the Australian endangered category. Current predictions suggest that nine species of mammal in northern Australia are in imminent danger of extinction within 20 years. We examine the robustness of the assumptions of status and trends in light of the low levels of monitoring of species and ecosystems across northern Australia, including monitoring the effects of management actions. The causes of the declines include a warming climate, pest species, changed fire regimes, grazing by introduced herbivores, and diseases, and work to help species and ecosystems recover is being conducted across the region. Indigenous custodians who work on the land have the potential and capacity to provide a significant human resource to tackle the challenge of species recovery. By working with non-Indigenous researchers and conservation managers, and with adequate support and incentives, many improvements in species' downward trajectories could be made. We propose a strategy to establish a network of monitoring sites based on a pragmatic approach by prioritizing particular bioregions. The policies that determine research and monitoring investment need to be re-set and new and modified approaches need to be implemented urgently. The funding needs to be returned to levels that are adequate for the task. At present resourcing levels, species are likely to become extinct through an avoidable attrition process .
... Depletion of perennial vegetation and soil erosion under conditions of drought and high grazing pressure. Dingo/wild dog Although these terms are often used interchangeably, wild canids in Australia are overwhelmingly of the distinct dingo lineage; both feral domestic dogs and first-generation dingo  dog hybrids are rare (Cairns et al. 2021). Invasive native scrub (INS) Native shrub and tree species that encroach or increase in density in previously open areas, or that invade plant communities in which the species do not normally occur (WLLS 2019). ...
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There is growing recognition of the need to achieve land use across the southern Australian rangelands that accommodates changing societal preferences and ensures the capacity of future generations to satisfy their own preferences. This paper considers the prospects for sustainable use of the pastoral lands based either on continued grazing or emerging, alternative land uses. After an overview of the southern rangelands environment, the status of the pastoral industry, its environmental impacts, and key issues for pastoral management, we propose four principles and 19 associated guidelines for sustainable pastoralism. Although some continued withdrawal of land from pastoralism is anticipated, we expect that pastoralism will continue throughout much of the region currently grazed, particularly in the higher rainfall environments in the east. Within these areas, sustainable pastoral land use should be achievable by the application of four broad management principles, as follows: (1) manage grazing within a risk management framework based on the concept of tactical grazing, (2) develop infrastructure to allow best management of both domestic and non-domestic grazing pressure, (3) incorporate management of invasive native scrub, where required, into overall, ongoing property management and (4) manage grazing to enhance biodiversity conservation at landscape scale. Application of these principles and guidelines will require the development of appropriate policy settings, particularly in relation to kangaroo management, climate change, and natural resource governance, together with innovative approaches to research, development and extension. Policy development will also be required if the new industry of carbon sequestration is to deliver socio-ecological benefits without perverse outcomes. Other emerging industries based on renewable energy or ecosystem services appear to have considerable potential, with little risk of adverse ecological consequences.
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This is the second part of a collation, ordered chronologically, of many reports in which dogs receive at least a passing mention in biological and ethnographic reports from the New Guinea region. We take the ‘New Guinea region’ as comprising mainland New Guinea and nearby islands, together with the Bismarck Archipelago (Manus, New Ireland and New Britain) and the north-western Solomon Islands (Buka and Bougainville). Under present-day political boundaries this region covers the Indonesian provinces of West Papua and Papua and the entire country of Papua New Guinea. As before, we intend this collation to draw attention to an under-researched, but important, component of the natural history and anthropology of New Guinea and as a resource for future workers, especially, we hope, for people who identify as citizens of part of that region. In the future we may again update and expand it. The collation so far is biased towards accounts from the eastern half of New Guinea and the islands that have come to comprise Papua New Guinea; much more material remains to be found in the archives of exploration and colonisation in western New Guinea, but we lack the language and historical skills to do those sources justice.
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Small macropodoid marsupials are well represented among Australia’s extinct and threatened mammals. Population monitoring is central to understanding how remaining species respond to on-going landscape change and threatening processes on private land and within managed conservation reserves. Camera trapping and occupancy modelling provide a reliable approach to monitor these often cryptic species. However, understanding the survey effort required to detect population declines of a given magnitude with high statistical certainty is often overlooked. We use empirical data from camera trapping and occupancy modelling to determine an optimal survey design for a regionally endangered population of the black-striped wallaby. We established a 1200 ha grid of 60 cameras and sampled in three 30-day intervals over a 1-year period. We investigated factors that may influence occupancy and detection followed by power analyses with our broad objective being to devise a monitoring program that would be robust enough to detect a 50% decline with at least 80% power. This species was not detected at rainforest sites. Naïve occupancy within eucalypt forest was 0.42. The detection probability (using 5-day detection occasions) varied with season (from 0.17 ± 0.04 in autumn to 0.34 ± 0.05 in spring). Occupancy was positively influenced by shrub cover and negatively influenced by elevation. We found no apparent influence of dingo detection on occupancy or detection of the black-striped wallaby. We explored different configurations of detection sites and number of survey occasions to satisfy our 50:80 criteria when initial occupancy was 0.40. Sampling 60 sites for a minimum of 30 days would satisfy these criteria. Power analyses can inform optimal designs for threatened species monitoring and similar investigations should be conducted for other threatened small macropods to assist their conservation.
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The predominant grazing management system used in the arid rangelands regions of Australia, set stocking, is not conducive to sustainable land management. More appropriate grazing management systems based upon periodic rest periods for important pasture species have not been adopted by pastoralists because the unmanaged grazing pressure from animals such as goats and kangaroos has been too high. Dingoes are the only cost-effective and long-term management solution to the effect of unmanaged grazing by goats and kangaroos. Yet government funding targets dingo eradication in pastoral areas, and it does so by adopting misleading and scientifically inaccurate terms for describing dingoes.
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Controversy about the nomenclature and taxonomy of dingoes has sparked interest in their complex identity. At the root of taxonomy debates are differences in the species concepts employed, differing opinions about the domestication status of dingoes (and their ancestors) and a simplistic handling of the complex evolutionary relationship between wolves, dingoes and domestic dogs. I explore the relationship of dingoes to village dogs, modern breed dogs and wolves using genome-wide SNP data and discuss the implications of these findings to the ongoing debate about dingo identity and nomenclature. Importantly, despite controversy about what to call dingoes and whether they are a full species, these animals represent an important, distinct and unique evolutionary unit worthy of high conservation priority, as a native species. There is growing concern about the spread of domestic dog genes into dingo populations, particularly in southeastern Australia, and the impact this has on conservation goals. However, the discovery of biogeographic subdivision within dingoes raises questions about the accuracy of the current methods used for estimating dog vs dingo ancestry. I caution scientists and wildlife managers to carefully consider the limitations of current ancestry estimate methods when assessing DNA test results. Future work using genome-wide DNA technology to improve dingo ancestry estimates will be fundamental to ongoing debate about what dingoes are, how to identify dingoes and how to conserve them.
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Dogs were the first domestic animal, but little is known about their population history and to what extent it was linked to humans. We sequenced 27 ancient dog genomes and found that all dogs share a common ancestry distinct from present-day wolves, with limited gene flow from wolves since domestication but substantial dog-to-wolf gene flow. By 11,000 years ago, at least five major ancestry lineages had diversified, demonstrating a deep genetic history of dogs during the Paleolithic. Coanalysis with human genomes reveals aspects of dog population history that mirror humans, including Levant-related ancestry in Africa and early agricultural Europe. Other aspects differ, including the impacts of steppe pastoralist expansions in West and East Eurasia and a near-complete turnover of Neolithic European dog ancestry.
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New Guinea singing dogs (NGSD) are identifiable by their namesake vocalizations, which are unlike any other canid population. Their novel behaviors and potential singular origin during dog domestication make them an attractive, but elusive, subject for evolutionary and conservation study. Although once plentiful on the island of New Guinea (NG), they were presumed to currently exist only in captivity. This conclusion was based on the lack of sightings in the lowlands of the island and the concurrent expansion of European- and Asian-derived dogs. We have analyzed the first nuclear genomes from a canid population discovered during a recent expedition to the highlands of NG. The extreme altitude (>4,000 m) of the highland wild dogs’ (HWD) observed range and confirmed vocalizations indicate their potential to be a wild NGSD population. Comparison of single-nucleotide polymorphism genotypes shows strong similarity between HWD and the homogeneous captive NGSD, with the HWD showing significantly higher genetic diversity. Admixture analyses and estimation of shared haplotypes with phylogenetically diverse populations also indicates the HWD is a novel population within the distinct evolutionary lineage of Oceanic canids. Taken together, these data indicate the HWD possesses a distinct potential to aid in the conservation of NGSD both in the wild and under human care.
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Dingo classification and management is complicated by hybridisation with domestic dogs. Northern Australia is a relatively high-risk zone for a rabies incursion, and in the event of an incursion, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who reside in this region would prioritise the protection of dingoes. Therefore, the classification of dingoes in this context is important. Twelve pictures of canids with features associated with both dingoes and domestic dogs from camera traps in the Northern Peninsula Area (NPA), northern Queensland, were shown to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rangers (n = 3), biosecurity officers (n = 2), environmental health workers (n = 2), and residents (n = 39) in the NPA. Nearly all pictures (10/12) were classified as dingo or domestic dog (none as hybrid) and two were inconclusive (no overall agreement). Dingoes were consistently identified as medium to large-framed dogs, with a long nose, pointed ears, narrow abdomen, a bushy or feathered tail, and smooth coats of a single base colour. Some hybrid features were acceptable, including sable coats, lack of white tail tip or feet, and curled tail. These findings are a preliminary guide for identifying canids in the NPA region for whom management might be controversial. Building on this approach via further consultation with residents is needed to inform rabies response policy. Our approach using locally acquired camera trap pictures could also be extended to other regions in which dingoes have value but their management is controversial.
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Public opposition has shaped management of wild animals in Australia, but public interest in dingo control has been minimal. We hypothesised that this is due to lack of awareness of dingo management practices, in part because using the term “wild dogs” to describe management renders “dingoes” invisible, framing the issue as one of control of introduced pests rather than control of an iconic Australian animal. We distributed an online questionnaire survey to the Australian public ( N = 811) to measure how the public perceived dingoes and their management, how these views compared with other animals managed as pests in Australia, and whether the term “wild dogs” has shaped views and knowledge of dingo management. Most respondents (84.6%) considered dingoes to be native to Australia and there was low approval of lethal control methods, except when justification was provided (e.g., to protect livestock or endangered native species). Only 19.1% were aware that “wild dog” management included dingoes, and attitudes towards “wild dogs” were more negative than those towards dingoes. If public awareness about dingo management increases, pressure from the public may result and shape future management actions, including restricting the use of lethal control practices like poison baiting on public lands. As such, public attitudes should be incorporated into decision-making, and appropriate communication strategies need to be employed to prevent backlash.
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The impact of hybridisation between dingoes and domestic dogs, and the subsequent introgression of domestic dog genes into dingo populations, remains a topic of significant impact. It has been claimed, but with little evidence or logical argumentation, that dingoes with significant dog introgression have different effects on agriculture and ecosystems than dingoes with no dog introgression. Introgression is a natural process in evolution, occurring in many species, although this is sometimes human assisted. Canid species in particular show high levels of introgression, due to their genetic and phylogenetic similarities, and human persecution creates scenarios encouraging hybridisation. Dingoes are no exception and demonstrate high levels of introgression of domestic dog genes, particularly in the temperate areas of south-eastern Australia. The available evidence shows that this introgression has minimal effects on the functional morphology of the dingo skull. There is also some preliminary evidence that introgression has not had a major impact on dingo reproductive biology. Studies on the impacts of dingoes on arid, tropical and temperate ecosystems, where levels of introgression vary greatly, all show consistent positive impacts of dingoes, regardless of the amount of domestic dog genes within the dingo population, on these ecosystems. Hence, hybridisation and resultant introgression from domestic dog genes appear to have little effect on aspects of the functional morphology or ecological role of the dingo. Accordingly, introgression does not diminish the conservation status of the dingo.
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Dogs are important companions to people in many societies; however, dogs can also be associated with risks to public health and safety. Dog population management is therefore an important consideration globally. This study aimed to better understand the role of dogs in Aboriginal communities and the barriers to accessing veterinary services. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 85 dog owners from nine Aboriginal communities across New South Wales, Australia. Many positive aspects of dog ownership were identified and few negatives. Dogs are considered an important part of family and community life and many dogs are allowed indoors (63.4%), even sharing beds with their owners. Most dogs were kept for companionship (84.7%) and/or as guard dogs (45.9%) and all respondents considered their dog part of their family. However, respondents had low levels of engagement with mainstream veterinary services, and many respondents identified significant barriers to accessing veterinary services, especially cost and transport. This study demonstrates the important and positive role of dogs in Aboriginal families and communities but also highlights a significant veterinary service gap. Our findings demonstrate that different perspectives on the role of dogs necessitates a different, culturally inclusive approach to dog management interventions.
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Ancestral dingoes arrived in Australia at some time, or times, during the Holocene, heralding a period of long and uneasy coexistence with the human inhabitants of the continent. For the first Australians, dingoes became a valued and integral part of the culture but also exacted diverse social and economic costs. For early Europeans and later arrivals, dingoes were alternately revered for their strength and intelligence or feared and reviled for their attacks on livestock. These disparate views have scarcely changed in 232 years; if anything, the schism in perspectives about the dingo has widened as more has been discovered about this divisive and still enigmatic animal. Here, we show that current arguments about the dingo have deep origins by tracing the history of debate about the taxon’s name, when dingoes arrived in Australia, whether they are native or introduced, the early effects of dingoes on native fauna, and their current impacts as a ‘biodiversity regulator’ and destroyer of livestock. We suggest that some debates concerning the dingo will be resolved when more evidence is gained or new discoveries are made, whereas other debates will progress only when proponents and protagonists are able to agree on a research agenda and on thresholds for interpretation of the results that the agenda produces. Such new evidence, and new collaborative thinking, should provide a more robust underpinning for when, where and how dingoes are conserved and managed in future.
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Pollution and pesticide use have been linked to evolution of chemical resistance and phenotypic shifts in invertebrates, but less so in vertebrates. Here we provide evidence that poisoning directed towards a mammalian carnivore, the dingo (Canis dingo), is linked to an increase in dingo body mass. We compared the skull length of dingoes, a proxy for size, from three regions where dingo populations were controlled by distributing poisoned meat baits and an unbaited region, before and after the introduction of the toxin sodium fluoroacetate (Compound 1080). Following 1080 introduction, dingo skull length increased in baited regions but not in the unbaited region. We estimate that after 1080 introduction, the skull length of female and male dingoes in baited regions increased by 4.49 and 3.6 mm, respectively. This equates to a 1.02- and 0.86-kg increase in mean body masses of female and male dingoes, respectively. We hypothesize that dingo body size has increased in baited regions due to 1080 selecting for animals with larger body size or because a reduction in dingo abundance in baited areas may have removed constraints on growth imposed by intraspecific competition and prey availability. Our study provides evidence that pesticide use can prompt phenotypic change in comparatively large and long-lived large vertebrates.