November 18 – Dingoes Ate My Post

Today’s factismal: The dingo was introduced to Australia 4,000 years ago by Polynesian traders.

Invasive animals and plants are a problem everywhere, but they are particularly pernicious in Australia. That’s because the “island continent” has been isolated from the rest of the world for so long that most of its species lack defenses against the invaders. To make a bad situation worse, many of the invaders come from regions with more intense evolutionary competition and so have learned to do more with less; as a result, they simply out-compete the native species.

That’s why rabbits have run rampant across southern Australia and why camels clomp through the western deserts. (Amusing side note: the camels in Australia are such pure breeds that they are imported into Arabia where the camels suffer from in-breeding.) That’s why cane toads are wrecking the rain forest and why feral cats have become public health menace number one in the cities. And it is especially why dingoes have wiped out so many native species.

The dingo is a feral dog that has evolved over the 4,000 years since it was accidentally introduced to Australia by passing Polynesians. It has adapted well to Australia’s drier regions, developing fluffier ears to screen out the sand and a sandy brown coat to blend in with the background. And, over the years since it first appeared on Australia’s shores, it has adapted very well to hunting the local wildlife. Though it will attack sheep and cattle (two more introduced species that verge on being invasive), it really likes to munch on rabbits (yeah) and kangaroos (boo) making both a boon and a bane. Indeed, there are actually a few programs devoted to preserving the dingo which is in danger of being driven out of some parts of Australia.

Of course, Australia isn’t the only place with invasive species. If you’d like to find out if that new weed is an invasive or would like to report an invasive species, then head on over to My Invasive:

7 thoughts on “November 18 – Dingoes Ate My Post

  1. With mtDNA evidence the “theory” of one person that dingoes were introduced 4000 years ago to Australia is well and truly busted. First, peer reviewed mtDNA evidence published in the Royal Journal states the dingo may have been in Australia for as long as 18,800 years. This then opens up the possibility that dingoes arrived naturally into Australia as that period covered the last ice age when sea levels were 250+metres lower than today. Thus there were land bridges most (if not all) the way to mainland Asia.
    There have also been rock paintings dated to 28,000 years. Dingoes feature amongst those paintings although the dingoes themselves were not dated.
    mtDNA researching published this year (2014) show dingoes almost totally deficient in the amy2b gene. This indicates dingoes were not exposed to agricultural societies which appeared about 16,000 years. It is therefore not possible for dingoes to be descended from Asian dogs that have an abundance of this gene. Because of the gene puzzle, we do not know where dingoes came from and have no idea how long they have been in Australia. It is also not known if they arrived naturally or had help from ancient mankind. It is a mistake to make definitive statements on the subject either way.
    Also, dingoes are not dogs. This also is a result of DNA research from 2014 and dingoes are now classified as their OWN species Canis dingo.
    The reason Australia has so many rabbits, feral cats, foxes, pigs loose is because us humans keep disturbing the top order predator (the dingo). We will never get rid of rabbits, cats, foxes or pigs, but if we leave the dingo alone, nature will rebalance.
    Finally, Australia was in a total state of ecological balance in 1788. It is white man that has caused the problems, not dingoes.

    • Tom,

      Thank you for reading my blog and caring enough about the material to comment. It is nice to know that there are people out there who love science as much as I do.

      As to the dingoes, you are right that the mtDNA evidence is pretty clear about both their relationships and the time when they were introduced. The mtDNA avidence on dingoes confirms that they were introduced to Australia approximately 4,000 years ago and that they are closely related to feral dogs such as the New Guinea Singing Dog. See:

      Mattias C. R. Oskarsson, Cornelya F. C. Klütsch, Ukadej Boonyaprakob, Alan Wilton, Yuichi Tanabe, Peter Savolainen, Mitochondrial DNA data indicate an introduction through Mainland Southeast Asia for Australian dingoes and Polynesian domestic dogs, Proceedings B, DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2011.1395Published 7 September 2011

      Savolainen, T., T. Leitner, A. N. Wilton, E. Matisoo-Smith, and J. Lundeberg, A detailed picture of the origin of the Australian dingo, obtained from the study of mitochondrial DNA, PNAS August 17, 2004 vol. 101 no. 33 12387-12390, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0401814101

      Ardalan, A., M. Oskarsson, C. Natanaelsson, A. N. Wilton, A. Ahmadian, P. Savolainen Narrow genetic basis for the Australian dingo confirmed through analysis of paternal ancestry, Genetica, March 2012, Volume 140, Issue 1-3, pp 65-73, DOI: 10.1007/s10709-012-9658-5

      And I agree that we shouldn’t be introducing new species such as the cane toad, rabbit or the dingo to biomes; it upsets the established predator-prey chains and can cause extinctions of native species. For example, the dingo put competition pressure on the thyacine (which is now extinct) and the Tasmanian devil (which in now extinct in the mainland) through a combination of prey competition and direct predation. Based on the example of the dingo, it takes at least 4,000 years for an introduced animal to become “native”.

      Again, thank you for reading and commenting!


      • I notice that you also lay the blame for the mainland extinction of the Thylacine and ‘devil’ at the Dingoes paws? This has also recently been subject of debate and while the Dingo’s competition may have played a minor part, the bulk of the cause of extinction is now hypothesised to be due to Aboriginal expansion and climate change.

      • Actually, I suspect that Ritche is most likely right when he says “we have to consider the other option – that all three factors contributed to extinction” (which is why I wrote “the dingo put competition pressure on the thyacine (which is now extinct) and the Tasmanian devil (which in now extinct in the mainland) through a combination of prey competition and direct predation” rather than “dingoes caused the thyacines to become extinct”). I’ve long thought that no single factor can wipe out most species; for example, the dinosaurs were not made extinct by a single asteroid but by a combination of climate change, new diseases (both thanks to plate tectonics), changes in the biomes (e.g., introduction of grasses and flowering plants), large scale eruptions (e.g., the Deccan traps), and an asteroid strike.

  2. I do not subscribe to the 4000 year date of introduction at all.. And NO-ONE says via Polynesia? (where did that come from)
    Neither does anyone who has studied the current science and publications in recent years..
    The Dingo (Canis sp.dingo) has inhabited the Australian continent for thousands of years. The theory & personal opinion of ONE man (Corbett) in the 80’s proposed that they were ‘introduced’ as domesticated village dogs only 3000-4000 years ago by trading Asian fishermen simply because they ‘looked’ like dogs he observed whilst on holiday in Asia. A claim he backed up because of the lack of fossil evidence prior to this date. ‘argumentum ad ignorantiam’ .. “the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence”
    But there is ‘evidence’ to the contrary of the ‘searfarer’ theory. DNA Evidence.. The earliest (2004) DNA studies can trace the Dingoes arrival back to ~12,000 years. The most recent (Aug 2014) analysed the DNA of Wolves, Dogs and Dingoes. Present in domesticated dogs was the gene (AMY2B) This genetic mutation commonly found in Dogs but rare or absent in Dingoes and Wolves presented itself the adaptation for dogs to digest complex starches only found in agrarian human societies. Societies that did not exist until at least 14,000 years ago. The genetic absence of this gene in the Australian Dingo irrefutably rules out descent from domestic Asian village dogs and points to an ‘arrival’ (and isolation) time for the Dingo of at least 14,000 years ago. Carbon dating of Aboriginal art and weathering dating of Burrup Peninsular petroglyphs could push this date many thousands of years further into the pliestocene era.
    This seafarer ‘opinion’ has somehow become entrenched as ‘fact’. The current ‘facts’ and science of modern DNA analysis supports a much older ‘migration’ to the Australasian conjoined continent of Sahul comprising Australia & New Guinea.

    • Leigh,

      Thank you for taking the time to comment on the post. It is clear that the dingo has many vocal supporters who care passionately about it.

      Please note that I did not say that the dingo was introduced via Polynesia. Rather I said that it was introduced by passing Polynesians; i.e., by those folks who would go from Southeast Asia to settle Polynesia. This is well-supported in the literature and hardly controversial.

      Similarly, most of the published DNA evidence suggests that the dingo split off from the domesticated dog about 4,000 years ago. For example, the article you cite points out that the common dog split from the wolf 11,000 years ago and Dingoes split off from dogs about 3,500 years ago (“Dingoes are free-living semi-feral dogs of Australia that arrived there at least 3,500 years ago “).

      Again, thank you for commenting.


  3. Pingback: July 6 – Adam And Eve And Mabel | Little facts about science

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