Genetic study reveals evolutionary history of dingoes

A major dingo DNA study has found that dingoes most likely migrated to Australia in two separate waves via an ancient land bridge with Papua New Guinea.

The discovery has important conservation implications, with the researchers recommending that the two genetically distinct populations of dingoes – in the southeast and northwest of the country – be treated as different groups for management and conservation purposes.

“Care must be taken not to move dingoes between different wild populations,” says the study’s first author and UNSW Sydney scientist, Dr Kylie Cairns.

“And captive breeding programs should ensure that the two dingo populations are maintained separately, with genetic testing used to identify ancestry.”

Further interbreeding must also be urgently prevented between domestic dogs and the southeastern dingo population, which is threatened by genetic dilution, habitat loss and lethal control measures such as baiting and the recently reintroduced wild dog bounty in Victoria.

“Effective containment or neutering of male dogs in rural areas can help reduce cross-breeding,” says Dr Cairns, from the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences.

“Additionally, baiting and killing practices separate the dingo packs, leading to an increased incidence of hybridization. Alternative livestock protection measures should be explored, such as livestock guards , predator deterrents and improved dingo-proof fencing,” she says.

The study, conducted by scientists from UNSW and the University of California, is published in the journal Ecology and evolution.

The study is the first extensive study of the evolutionary history of dingoes around Australia using both mitochondrial and Y-chromosome genetic markers.

The researchers sampled 127 dingoes across Australia as well as five New Guinea singing dogs from a North American captive population. A dataset of Y chromosome and mitochondrial control region data from 173 male dogs, including 94 dingoes, was also used.

Only genetically pure dingoes were included in the study.

The Northwestern population is found in Western Australia, the Northern Territory, northern South Australia, and central and northern Queensland.

The southeastern population is found in New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria and southern Queensland (including Fraser Island).

Researchers believe the two groups may have migrated separately from Papua New Guinea over the now flooded land bridge 8,000 to 10,000 years ago.

Particularly in southeastern states, they recommend that an extensive survey of dingoes in national parks and state forests be conducted to focus conservation efforts in key areas, and also that state and federal legislation allowing lethal control measures be revised.

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Material provided by University of New South Wales. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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