How the Dingo Could Stop Australia’s Plummeting Rate of Species Loss

Australia holds the dubious twin distinction of being a continent rich in species and habitat biodiversity, but at the same time suffering the most rapid mammal species loss in the world. A staggering one in 10 mammal species has gone extinct in Australia over the past 200 years.

Researchers desperately want to stop this free fall, and now a team at the University of Sydney thinks the wild dingo might play a critical role in biodiversity recovery. According to a paper published in February 2015, they want to try an experiment to see if their theory is right.

Why is Australia Losing So Many Species to Extinction?

Native mammals in Australia began their precipitous decline within 60 years after the first European settlers arrived on the continent in 1788. The foreigners brought red foxes and cats along on their ships to control rodents. Unfortunately, when released into the Australian wild, these animals flourished. They continued preying on small mammals quite effectively, eventually decimating their numbers.

Add to this problem the erection of the Dingo Barrier Fence (DBF) and species loss crept upward, year by year. The original fence, completed in 1885, was intended to control the exploding rabbit population. It also helped control foraging kangaroos, emus and wild pigs.

The DBF along Sturt National Park.  Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons, Poyt448.

The DBF along Sturt National Park. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons, Poyt448.

In the 1940s, large sections of the DBF were joined in order to extend the fence across the border between Queensland and New South Wales. This time, its purpose was to keep dingoes and other wild dogs from killing cattle and sheep.

Today, researchers think it would be a good idea to let dingoes roam at will in order to control the predatory foxes and cats that cause so much devastation to other mammal species. They want to set dingoes loose within Australia’s Sturt National Park and watch the resulting effect on biodiversity in that area.

A Bold Experiment to Reintroduce the Dingo

“There’s been ongoing interest in exploring the ecological role of the dingo,” the University of Sydney’s Dr. Thomas Newsome told the Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC). “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 approach is purposefully bold because only an experiment on this scale can resolve the long-running debate over whether the dingo can help halt Australia’s biodiversity collapse and restore degraded rangeland environments,” Dr. Newsome said in a press release.

The University of Sydney’s team of researchers believes dingoes can effectively suppress invasive predators like feral cats and foxes, no to mention other problem species like rabbits, feral pigs, goats and even kangaroos. An overabundance of these species contributes to rangeland degradation, which in turn means threatened species which depend on the rangeland suffer.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Photo credit: Thinkstock

American researchers proposed a similar experiment in the mid-1990s for essentially the same reasons.

“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,” Dr. Newsome told ABC News.

“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,” he said.

Dr. Newsome and his team want to kickstart this scientific debate within Australia as soon as possible. If the American experience is any guide, obtaining a consensus to move forward with this test will take time.

“It took 20 years of debate in America before wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho, so let’s start having the conversation,” Dr. Newsome added.

With luck, the long-maligned dingo might just rehabilitate its unsavory reputation — and save many of its fellow animals from being lost forever.

Photo credit (main image): Thinkstock.

69 comments

Mark Donners
Mark Donner1 years ago

Don't forget that Australians, just like North Americans (and descendants of the Spanish invasion of South America) are criminal trespassers that stole the land from the natives. The colonial nightmare wiped out not only the native inhabitants of continents, those European scumbags wiped out the global environment and are continuing to do so. The European colonizers have been committing ecocide, introducing invasive species since they were let loose on the world
Another idiotic move from the greedy colonizers: " cane toads were introduced to Australia from Hawaii in 1935 in an attempt to control the native grey-backed cane beetle. This idiotic introduction of invasive cane toads, along with other idiocies has been devastating Australia's ecosystems

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Dianne D.
Dianne D2 years ago

a large reduction in the human population would also help

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jennifer H.
Jennifer H2 years ago

Gayle J. is right. The US killed off the wolves, then reintroduced them, just to kill them off again. Aren't we a bright species ourselves? The Australians aren't that far behind the US with the treatment of their dingos. I just hope if they do try this "experiment" that the dingos fair better.

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Angela K.
Angela K2 years ago

Thanks for sharing

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Carole R.
Carole R2 years ago

Thank you for a good article.

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Fi T.
Past Member 2 years ago

Let's play our part

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Jonathan Harper
Jonathan Harper2 years ago

noted

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Lori Hone
Lori Hone2 years ago

Only when humans get involved does Mother Nature get out of whack, sounds like a good plan, worth trying!

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Hent catalina - maria

Thank you

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