Nature vs. Nurture: Evaluating physical and genetic variability in modern and pre-Contact dingoes. (APSF 20080)

APSF 20080 | Amount: $41,000 | Project Leader: M Fillios | Project Period:

A project undertaken at University of New England, and supervised by Melanie Fillios

The status of the dingo (Canis dingo) as a either a native species or invasive pest remains a high-profile debate. This is in part because the original relationship between dingoes and indigenous peoples remains enigmatic, with their introduction to Australia as a wild or domestic (and subsequently feral) species poorly understood. The impact of this debate features in whether they should be exterminated as an invasive pest or conserved as a native species and continues to thrive because of our poor understanding of the dingo’s origins, specifically over their initial status as a domesticate (Ballard & Wilson 2019). Against this background there has been new research supporting regional variation in modern dingo populations, but with little understanding of the antiquity and/or causes of these differences.

Our research will test this variability through analyses of new, unanalysed sub-fossil pre-Contact dingo skeletal material from natural deposits. Using morphological and biomolecular analyses we will evaluate the driving forces behind the variability in modern dingo populations. We will contrast recently published data on genetic variability in modern dingoes, and previously collected unpublished data on whole genome sequencing of modern dingoes (KC) with recently published morphometric data.

This novel combination of data will resolve questions surrounding the dingo’s introduction to Australia, specifically testing whether phenotypic and genotypic differences could result from several ancient introductions of distinct canine lineages to Australia, from dingoes’ relationship with people, or post-introduction environmental adaptation.

The proposed research is significant because it represents the first full suite analyses of ancient dingo remains. Understanding the root causes of variability will aid in defining dingoes from an often over-looked cultural and ecological perspective, shaping future decisions on dingo conservation, management and policy.