Dingoes Wrongly Accused Of Animal Extinctions
September 10, 2013

Dingoes Wrongly Accused Of Animal Extinctions

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

Scientists writing in the journal Ecology say that despite popular belief, the Australian dingo should not be blamed for mass extinctions.

Dingoes have been blamed for the extinctions of the Tasmanian tiger and the Tasmanian devil on the Australian mainland about 3,000 years ago. Instead, the scientists blame Aboriginal populations and a shift in climate.

"Perhaps because the public perception of dingoes as 'sheep-killers' is so firmly entrenched, it has been commonly assumed that dingoes killed off the thylacines and devils on mainland Australia," said Dr. Thomas Prowse, a research associate in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences and the Environment Institute.

He said that there was evidence that both the Tasmanian tiger and Tasmanian devils lasted for over 40,000 years following the arrival of humans in Australia.

"However, and unfortunately for the dingo, most people have overlooked that about the same time as dingoes came along, the climate changed rather abruptly and Aboriginal populations were going through a major period of intensification in terms of population growth and technological advances," Prowse said.

The team built a complex series of mathematical models to recreate the dynamic interaction between the main potential drivers of extinction, the long-term response of herbivore prey, and the viability of the thylacine and devil populations. These models included interactions and competition between predators as well as the influence of climate on vegetation and prey populations.

"Our multi-species models showed that dingoes could reduce thylacine and devil populations through both competition and direct predation, but there was low probability that they could have been the sole extinction driver," Dr. Prowse says. "Our results support the notion that thylacines and devils persisted on Tasmania not because the dingo was absent, but because human density remained low there and Tasmania was less affected by abrupt climate changes."

Backing up this recent research, a 2009 study proved that dingoes could be more beneficial to small native animals and cattle farmers than harmful. The scientists showed how dingoes suppress animals that may attack smaller animals and plants.

“The prevailing view that they’re introduced and must be removed. But dingoes suppress fox and kangaroo numbers, and when you don’t have dingoes in the system, kangaroos basically eat all the herbage and foxes take all of the prey," said Dr. Mike Letnic from the University of Sydney. “You basically have two ecological universes – a system with dingoes and a system without dingoes – they are completely different places."