Dominant dingoes keep their bite despite cross-breeding

A 3D skull reconstructed from a CT scan superimposed on an image of a dingo. Photo: Karen Black/modified by Will Parr/UNSW Can you tell the difference? The pink skull is the dingo, the purple skull is the hybrid and the green skull is the wild dog breed. Photo: UNSW
Nanjing Night Net

Dingoes keep the distinctive shape of their heads despite crossbreeding and this is good news for native ecosystems and animal diversity.

That’s a conclusion drawn from a new study published today in Evolutionary Biology.

Led by Will Parr at the University of NSW, the study concludes that the dingo skull shape is dominant compared with imported species.

Dr Parr told Fairfax Media that “the dingo has a morphological dominance and likely that’s there because of an underlying genetic dominance”.

Further, the study shows the hybrid offspring of dingoes and imported dogs quickly revert to “dingo cranial morphology”.

In other words, the dingo keeps its bite even as it breeds with imports.

This is probably good news for native species and ecosystems, Dr Parr said.

One of Dr Parr’s co-authors, Associate Professor Mike Letnic, also of UNSW, said: “What dingoes do in the wild is they help to keep numbers of foxes, feral cats and kangaroos down. That has benefits for smaller native mammals in the ecosystem such as bandicoots, bilbies and native rodents.”

By keeping their distinctive head shapes while interbreeding, they are more likely to do this successfully, maintaining their distinctive ecological role as primary predator.

Dr Parr said: “If crossbreeding had affected the shape of the dingo skull, it would have changed what it could eat and this would have knock-on effects for other species.”

He said imported species have recessive structural traits. “This is the result of selective breeding to maintain breed standards,” he said.

Just as well for the dingo and other species such as the bilby and bandicoot.

“Cranial morphology has evolved to suit [the dingo] environment. So if you crossbreed it with domesticated dogs with very different shapes, you could change the shape of the dingo’s skull, and therefore change what it is able to eat,” Dr Parr said.

“This could in turn change its ecological role and how it affects the environment around it.”

By having a dominant skull shape, the impact of crossbreeding on the food chain is minimised.

Dr Letnic’s early study on the ecological role of the dingo in 2013 won a Eureka Prize for science.

At the time of that study his co-author, Euan Ritchie of Deakin University, wrote: “Our research shows that dingoes are key elements in the struggle to reduce damage caused by foxes, feral cats and even kangaroos.

“Ecosystems with dingoes have better vegetation and more diverse and abundant populations of small native mammals. In fact, a good dose of our native dog can sustain biodiversity and help land managers control invasive species.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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