Scientists say dingoes may save wildlife from extinction

A proposed study is expected to show that dingoes can in fact have a positive effect on ecosystems in which they were previously thought by many to do nothing but damage.

AUDIO: Open up Sturt National Park to dingoes, say University of Sydney scientists (ABC Rural)

Dingo Aboriginal Art

Cherie von Hörchner ABC Rural 18 February 2015

Researchers are calling for the dog fence to be moved as an experiment that looks at ways to protect threatened native species and increase biodiversity.


The aim is to let dingoes breed up in Sturt National Park, near Cameron Corner, in far north-west New South Wales, so researchers can study the role the canines play in arid lands.

University of Sydney researcher Dr Thomas Newsome said the apex predator could play an important part in managing feral pests who prey on wildlife.

"There's been ongoing interest in exploring the ecological role of the dingo," he said.

"There have been lots of studies that have shown what happens when you take dingoes out of the system, but, from a scientific view, the next logical step is to see what happens when you put them back into the system.

"Our study is really tailored to helping to resolve the ongoing debate about whether the dingo can provide positive benefits to ecosystems that have suffered overgrazing of kangaroos and emus, as well as predation by introduced species such as feral cats and red foxes."

The proposed study is expected to show that dingoes can in fact have a positive effect on ecosystems in which they were previously thought by many to do nothing but damage.

Dingo Outback

"There's been lots of studies showing that where dingoes are present they can have suppressive effects on kangaroo and emu populations, as well as introduced species," Dr Newsome said.

"All of these species contribute to rangeland degradation when in high densities."

The University of Sydney paper proposing the experiment, which features 19 authors from Australia and America, will soon be presented to government departments and industry stakeholders.

Mr Newsome stressed that potentially affected landholders should not be alarmed.

"We're not talking about tearing down the dingo fence and leaving it open," he said.

Homelands Dingo

"What we're talking about is actually realigning a small section of the fence, only about 275 kilometres, to allow dingoes to naturally recolonise from areas in South Australia and Queensland, where they're much more common."

A similar trial ran successfully nearly 20 years ago in North America's Yellowstone National Park, where grey wolves were reintroduced as top predators. Mr Newsome said the dingo trial could be just as revealing.

"The reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park in Idaho in 1995-96 provided an unprecedented experiment for ecologists to asses the role of a top predator," he said.

"The dingo is currently our top predator, the wolf is North America's top predator, and there's been a sweep of studies showing that the wolf's return to Yellowstone had an effect on elk numbers, and that in turn increased vegetation growth, as well as a sweep of other interactions. It was essentially the same ecological theory being studied."

Mr Newsome believed the study was essential for an area where feral animals continued to threaten native wildlife with extinction.

"If we keep going the way we're going, these extinction rates are going to continue," he said.

"So really, what this paper is about is trying to propose new ideas, new solutions, and to use science as a guide to test whether the dingo can help."