DNA suggests Australia isn’t losing its iconic dingo to interbreeding

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dingoes

Dingoes (Canis familiaris dingo) have a genetic profile that is distinct from that of domestic dogs

imageBROKER/Jurgen & Christine Sohns/Alamy

Most of the wild canines in Australia are dingoes, and interbreeding between dogs and dingoes is rare – laying to rest concerns that dingoes are virtually extinct in the wild.

Kylie Cairns at the University of New South Wales in Sydney and her colleagues have found that populations of dingoes (Canis familiaris dingo) in northern, western and central Australia are largely free from domestic dog (Canis familiaris) DNA.

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The team collated genetic samples from previously published data sets, as well as adding 611 new samples of DNA from their own survey, then analysed these samples using 23 genetic markers that distinguish dingoes from domestic dogs.

Of DNA collected from 5039 animals, the team found that only 31 samples belonged to feral dogs, and 27 belonged to first-generation dingo-dog hybrids.

“Whilst there has been hybridisation in the past, and there is certainly dog ancestry in the population, particularly in New South Wales, Victoria and southern Queensland, it doesn’t seem to be diluting out the dingo-like identity,” says Cairns.

Despite having a common ancestor, dingoes and dogs are distinctly different. “That’s because they have been isolated as a population for at least the past 5000 years in Australia, but possibly up to 10,000 years,” says Cairns.

Interbreeding between the two seems relatively infrequent, but the drivers for it shouldn’t be overlooked, says Cairns.

“Canines are quite unique in that when the different species hybridise, the offspring are generally fertile,” says Cairns. This is true for wolf-coyote hybrids in north America, as well as dingo-dog hybrids.

Cairns suggests her research also points to the need to reconsider what the term “wild dog” means in Australia.

“When we use the term wild dog, a lot of people understand that to mean roaming or feral pet dogs,” says Cairns. “That is not what we’re seeing.” Most of the animals were either pure dingo or canines with mostly dingo ancestry.

Journal reference: Australian Mammalogy, DOI: 10.1071/AM20055

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