Unravelling The Dingo Mystery with Long-term Research Underway

It’s a 4000 year old mystery and has plagued Australian livestock production for most of the past two centuries. According to the Invasive Animals CRC, this mystery is holding back best practice management of dingoes and wild dog problems across Australia. How do we effectively manage dingoes and other free-ranging cross-breed dogs when we just don’t know the true ecological roles of these predators?


Researchers with the Invasive Animals CRC, led by Ben Allen and Peter Fleming – Wild Dog Theme Leader for the Invasive Animals CRC, have just published a critical review of dingo research methodology in Biological Conservation, which identifies the need for long-term research on the ecological roles of dingoes and other free ranging dogs. But long-term research to 2017 is now underway!

Based at Orange as Principal Research Scientist in the Vertebrate Pest Research Unit of Biosecurity NSW, Peter said that, depending on what they are eating at the time, free-ranging dogs are viewed differently by people. For some, they are destructive pests attacking sheep and cattle. For others, dingoes are seen as an “under-utilised weapon” against feral cats and foxes (collectively referred to as meso-predators). Peter said there is much uncertainty about potential meso-predator suppression by free-ranging dogs, including dingoes.

“It’s critically important that we manage the negative impacts of free-ranging dogs using the most up-to-date scientific information,” Peter said. “Right now, pressure is being brought to bear on livestock producers in some areas to reduce lethal control of all free-ranging dogs because of potential environmental benefit of dingoes.

“We know wild dogs and sheep don’t mix and that strategic co-management is the best way to go for both conservation and agricultural goals. Community wild dog control programs in livestock production areas can suffer because of conflicting information about the roles of dingoes and the other free-ranging wild dogs. However, our review shows we are unsure what the ecological roles are. The new research may yet demonstrate there are ecosystem services and net benefits of retaining free-ranging wild dogs to suppress foxes and feral cat impacts in some areas, but they will still need to be controlled for livestock protection”.

To get to the bottom of the dingo mystery and to determine the ecological roles of free-ranging wild dogs in the many different ecosystems that make up Australia, the Invasive Animals CRC and its partners have embarked on a five-year research program to enhance the nation’s ability to manage all their impacts. This information is critical to manage this unique and charismatic predator in Australia – the dingo, while mitigating livestock losses.

Based at the University of New England and Biosecurity NSW, the research program will centre on north-east NSW and south-east Qld, a biodiversity hotspot but where livestock producers continue to suffer predation problems. The University of New England is currently receiving applications until 15 February for research PhDs to support the wild dog research team. Substantial Invasive Animals CRC resources are being devoted to the research, with up to eight PhD projects about native and introduced predators, their interactions with their prey, the plants the prey eats and the social and economic context of wild dog impacts.

“In five years time we will have a sound understanding of the relationships between the predators, prey, plants and people in the highly-productive north-east NSW.” Peter said. “In the meantime, the coordinated, strategic approach to managing free-ranging dogs and preventing livestock predation must continue.”

1. Peter Fleming, Ph (02) 6391 3806, peter.fleming@dpi.nsw.gov.au

2. Dingo PhD applications, closing 15th February 2013, A/Prof Nick Reid, email: nrei3@une.edu.au

3. Biological Conservation article http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006320712005022


Company Name: Invasive Animals CRC
Contact Person: Glenn Conroy
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Phone: +61 2 6201 2890
Address:UC Innovation Centre, Building 22, University Drive South University of Canberra BRUCE ACT 2617
Country: Australia
Website: http://www.invasiveanimals.com