DNA analysis could help researchers protect dingo populations

Researchers have discovered how dingoes first crossed into Australia and why they are split into two distinct populations.
By James Smith | Nov 03, 2017
In a discovery that could help future conservation efforts, researchers from UNSW and the University of California found that dingoes migrated across a now-underwater land-bridge between Australia and Papua New Guinea between 8,000 and 10,000 years ago.

This study is the first to look at dingo evolutionary history, which the team did by analyzing both mitochondrial and Y-chromosome genetic markers in 127 genetically pure dingoes across Australia. They also looked at five New Guinea Singing Dogs from a North American captive population and collected Y chromosome and mitochondrial control region data from 173 male dogs.

This showed that the mammals crossed over the ancient land-bridge in two waves, which resulted in two genetically different species. The north-western group lives in Western Australia, the Northern Territory, northern parts of South Australia, and central and northern Queensland. In contrast, the south-eastern group can be found in New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria, and southern parts of Queensland.

This is significant because the differences in the species could help scientists better understand how to conserve both populations. Dingoes have been declining over the past decade. Not only that, but control programs, habitat fragmentation, and breeding with domestic dogs have caused pure bred dingoes to become exceedingly rare.

"Apex predators are in decline, globally, which has lead to and threatens continuing impacts to entire ecosystems," the team wrote in the study, according to Gizmodo Australia. "On the Australian continent, indigenous apex predators went extinct thousands of years ago, leaving the dingo as the sole remaining apex predator on the mainland."

The team hopes to use this new information to help save dingo populations. They next plan to conduct a survey of dingoes across all national parks and state forests in order to help conservation efforts focus on key areas. Researchers also hope that state and federal legislation allowing fatal control measures will be reviewed.

If the above steps are taken it could help prevent population loss. Scientists also suggest captive breeding programs could be put in place, and genetic testing should be used to prove ancestry.

The findings are outlined in According to a study in Ecology and Evolution

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