Demise of the dingo

Demise of the dingo

Hot Topics in Ecology

Demise of the dingo

Dr Aaron Greenville, Prof. Glenda Wardle, University of Sydney, A. Prof. Euan Ritchie, Deakin University, Dr Thomas Newsome, University of Sydney
Dingo – killed and left on pole in 2013 (left) Thylacine last seen in wild in 1932 after three decades of lethal control (right). Dingo photograph by Aaron Greenville, thylacine photo taken ~1869, photographer unknown.

Because it threatens livestock, the native dingo Canis dingo is classified as a pest species across much of Australia. Barrier fencing, and lethal methods, such as 1080 poisoning and trapping and shooting, are used to control the dingo, which is the only remaining terrestrial, large-bodied (>10kg) top predator in mainland Australia. Dingo management therefore parallels persecution of the Tasmanian tiger: a top-predator that was hunted for its alleged impact on livestock. Dingo persecution has reduced the species' distribution and disrupts its social structure, potentially accelerating the demise of this species through hybridisation with feral domestic dogs. Whatever the genetic intermixing, it is clear that for at least ~5000 years dingoes have played a functional role in the Australian landscape. Top predators are now understood to be ecologically important in maintaining diversity. The loss or suppression of top predators can lead to additional extinctions through the food chain, and an increase of herbivores, cats and foxes that negatively impact native wildlife and ecological processes in Australia. An updated review of the literature on the ecological role of the dingo, confirms the following key points:

1. Dingoes kill and compete with cats and foxes, and alter the foraging behaviour of feral cats and foxes. This suppression of smaller predators can have net positive benefits for populations of threatened species.

2. Dingoes can control populations of exotic and overabundant native herbivores and omnivores (e.g. feral goats, feral pigs, and native kangaroos). Kangaroo numbers increase with rainfall and, when present, dingoes limit their population through predation. Importantly, dingoes can limit kangaroo numbers during droughts. This reduces grazing pressure on grasslands, improves soil nutrient levels and in some area can increase economic benefits to pastoralists.

3. Lethal control of dingoes can disrupt the social structure of packs that would otherwise limit dispersal, hybridisation and attacks on stock. Control of dingoes has been associated with increased, not decreased livestock loss in some areas.

4. Alternatives to lethal control and the dingo fence exist. Livestock guardian dogs can protect stock from dingo predation. This alternative is cost effective, providing a return on investment in 1 to 3 years, it is more humane, and the resultant benefits are more likely to be sustained in the longer term.


Hot Topic Lead Author: 
Name: Dr Aaron Greenville
Phone: 02 9351 4470

Name: Prof. Glenda Wardle
Phone: 02 9351 7113

Name: A.Prof. Euan Ritchie
Phone: 03 9251 7606

Name: Dr Thomas Newsome
Phone: 02 9351 4470

Date approved: 
Wednesday, March 28, 2018 - 20:13
ID Reference Type Aim of the study Alternate Review
9497 Allen B. L., Fleming P. J. S., Allen L. R., Engeman R. M., Ballard G. & Leung L. K. P. (2013) As clear as mud: A critical review of evidence for the ecological roles of Australian dingoes. Biological Conservation 159, 158-74. Review paper Review of dingo literature focusing on (1) methodological flaws, (2) sampling bias, and (3) limitations of various experimental designs.
9475 Brook L. A., Johnson C. N. & Ritchie E. G. (2012) Effects of predator control on behaviour of an apex predator and indirect consequences for mesopredator suppression. Journal of Applied Ecology 49, 1278-86. pre-existing contrasts and manipulative experiment. compare feral cat activity on between properties where dingoes were controlled and not controlled
9495 Caughley G., Grigg G., Caughley J. & Hill G. (1980) Does dingo predation control the densities of kangaroos and emus? Wildlife Research 7, 1-12. Pre-existing contrasts ("natural experiment") Determine if dingoes regulate kangaroo and emu densities
9476 Choquenot D. & Forsyth D. M. (2013) Exploitation ecosystems and trophic cascades in non-equilibrium systems: pasture – red kangaroo – dingo interactions in arid Australia. Oikos 122, 1292-306. Modelling. Simulation. Test predictions of the exploitation ecosystem hypothesis (EEH) and model the interactions between pasture, red kanagroos and dingoes.
9516 CN Johnson and AR Wallach (2016) The virtuous circle: predator-friendly farming and ecological restoration in Australia. Restoration Ecology 24, 821-826. Opinion article To assess the outcomes of lethal dingo control and outline new, non-lethal ways to manage predator-livestock conflict.
9511 Colman N. J., Crowther M. S. & Letnic M. (2015) Macroecological patterns in mammal abundances provide evidence that an apex predator shapes forest ecosystems by suppressing herbivore and mesopredator abundance. J. Biogeogr. 42, 1975-85. correlational with no pre-determined gradient or contrast To test predictions on the direct and indirect effects of apex predators on mammals and vegetation generated from trophic cascade theory and the mesopredator release hypothesis
9509 Colman N. J., Gordon C. E., Crowther M. S. & Letnic M. (2014) Lethal control of an apex predator has unintended cascading effects on forest mammal assemblages. Proc. R. Soc. Biol. Sci. Ser. B 281, 20133094. manipulative experiment To investigate if lethal control of an apex predator, the dingo, drive unintended shifts in forest ecosystem structure of mammals and vegetation
9499 Corbett L. (2001) The conservation status of the dingo Canis lupus dingo in Australia, with particular reference to New South Wales: threats to pure dingoes and potential solutions. In: A Symposium on the Dingo. Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales correlational with no pre-determined gradient or contrast, Assess the conversation status of the dingo
9496 Eldridge S. R., Shakeshaft B. J. & Nano T. J. (2002) The impact of wild dog control on cattle, native and introduced herbivores and introduced predators in central Australia. Unpublished report to the Bureau of Rural Sciences, Canberra. Manipulative experiment Investigate the effects of dingo baiting in central Australia on livestock damage, the activity and abundance of predators, the activity and abundance of prey species.
9477 Glen A. S. & Dickman C. R. (2005) Complex interactions among mammalian carnivores in Australia, and their implications for wildlife management. Biological Reviews 80, 387-401. Review paper Review the evidence for complex interactions among native and introduced mammalian carnivores in Australia
9478 Glen A. S., Dickman C. R., SoulÉ M. E. & Mackey B. G. (2007) Evaluating the role of the dingo as a trophic regulator in Australian ecosystems. Austral Ecology 32, 492-501. Review paper Investigate evidence for trophic regulation of ecosystems by the dingo, suggest some questions for future research, and discuss the design of experiments to test these.
9510 Gordon C. E., Eldridge D. J., Ripple W. J., Crowther M. S., Moore B. D. & Letnic M. (2017) Shrub encroachment is linked to extirpation of an apex predator. J. Anim. Ecol. 86, 147-57. Pre-existing contrasts ("natural experiment") and Manipulative experiment Can trophic cascades triggered by the extirpation of Australia’s largest terrestrial predator, the dingo (Canis dingo), could be a driver of shrub encroachment in the Strzelecki Desert, Australia
9504 Gordon C. E., Feit A., Gruber J. & Letnic M. (2015) Mesopredator suppression by an apex predator alleviates the risk of predation perceived by small prey. Proc. R. Soc. Biol. Sci. Ser. B 282, 20142870. Pre-existing contrasts ("natural experiment") and Manipulative experiment To investigate if the suppression of abundance and activity of a mesopredator (the feral cat) by an apex predator (the dingo) has positive effects on both abundance and foraging efficiency of a desert rodent.
9508 Greenville A. C., Wardle G. M., Tamayo B. & Dickman C. R. (2014) Bottom-up and top-down processes interact to modify intraguild interactions in resource-pulse environments. Oecologia 175, 1349-58. correlational with no pre-determined gradient or contrast To investigate how resource pulses change intraguild predator interactions
9512 Greg Campbell, Andrew Coffey, Heather Miller, John L. Read, Anthony Brook, Peter J.S. Fleming , Peter Bird, Steve Eldridge and Benjamin L. Allen. (2018) Dingo baiting did not reduce fetal/calf loss in beef cattle in northern South Australia. Animal Produc manipulative experiment ascertain the magnitude and variability in fetal/calf loss in northern South Australia and to evaluate whether or not contemporary dingo-baiting practices affected this loss. Key alternative explanations for fetal/calf loss were also explored.
9480 Johnson C. N. & VanDerWal J. (2009) Evidence that dingoes limit abundance of a mesopredator in eastern Australian forests. Journal of Applied Ecology 46, 641-6. correlational with no pre-determined gradient or contrast Re-examine the data of Newsome (2001)and Catling & Burt (1995) on abundance of dingoes versusfoxes in NSW forests.
9479 Johnson C. N., Isaac J. L. & Fisher D. O. (2007) Rarity of a top predator triggers continent-wide collapse of mammal prey: dingoes and marsupials in Australia. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 274, 341-6. Pre-existing contrasts Investigate if suppression of dingoes could have contributed to high rates of extinction of native mammals by allowing the intensity of predation from foxes and cats to increase.
9481 Kennedy M., Phillips B. L., Legge S., Murphy S. A. & Faulkner R. A. (2012) Do dingoes suppress the activity of feral cats in northern Australia? Austral Ecology 37, 134-9. Manipulative experiment Whether dingo activity is correlated with cat activity
9482 Letnic M. & Crowther M. S. (2013) Patterns in the abundance of kangaroo populations in arid Australia are consistent with the Exploitation Ecosystems Hypothesis. Oikos 122, 761-9. Manipulative experiment Kangaroo abundance should increase with increasing primary productivity in a two-trophic link system where dingoes are rare; and that kangaroo abundance would remain relatively constant regardless of primary productivity in a three trophic link system where dingoes are abundant.
9484 Letnic M. & Dworjanyn S. A. (2011) Does a top predator reduce the predatory impact of an invasive mesopredator on an endangered rodent? Ecography 34, 827-35. Manipulative experiment Compare the abundances of the red fox and an endangered prey species (dusky hopping mouse, Notomys fuscus), predator diets, and N. fuscus foraging behaviour in the presence and absence of the dingo.
9486 Letnic M. & Koch F. (2010) Are dingoes a trophic regulator in arid Australia? A comparison of mammal communities on either side of the dingo fence. Austral Ecology 35, 167-75. Manipulative experiment Investigate the effect of dingo exclusion on mammal communities, by comparing mammal assemblages where dingoes were present and absent.
9483 Letnic M., Crowther M. S. & Koch F. (2009) Does a top-predator provide an endangered rodent with refuge from an invasive mesopredator? Anim. Conserv. 12, 302-12. Manipulative experiment Investigate how the abundance of an endangered rodent, Notomys fuscus is affected by the dingo, introducedmesopredators, introduced herbivores, kangaroos and rainfall.
9485 Letnic M., Greenville A., Denny E., Dickman C. R., Tischler M., Gordon C. & Koch F. (2011) Does a top predator suppress the abundance of an invasive mesopredator at a continental scale? Global Ecology and Biogeography 20, 343-53. Pre-existing contrasts Does the dingo supress the red fox at a continental scale?
9487 Letnic M., Koch F., Gordon C., Crowther M. S. & Dickman C. R. (2009) Keystone effects of an alien top-predator stem extinctions of native mammals. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 276, 3249-56. Manipulative experiment Fewer cats, foxes and kanagroos in presence of dingo. Rabbits, small mammals and grass to increase in presence of dingo.
9488 Letnic M., Ritchie E. G. & Dickman C. R. (2012) Top predators as biodiversity regulators: the dingo Canis lupus dingo as a case study. Biological Reviews 87, 390-413. review paper Review studies of the ecological effects of the dingo to explore the influence of a top predator onbiodiversity at a continental scale.
9501 Morris T. & Letnic M. (2017) Removal of an apex predator initiates a trophic cascade that extends from herbivores to vegetation and the soil nutrient pool. Proc Biol Sci 284, 20170111. Pre-existing contrasts ("natural experiment") To investigate the effects that removal of an apex predator has on herbivore abundance, vegetation and the soil nutrient pool
9489 Moseby K. E., Neilly H., Read J. L. & Crisp H. A. (2012) Interactions between a top order predator and exotic mesopredators in the Australian rangelands. International Journal of Ecology 2012. Manipulative experiment Test if the dingo may suppress the introduced cat and red fox.
9503 Newsome T. M., Ballard G.-A., Crowther M. S., Dellinger J. A., Fleming P. J. S., Glen A. S., Greenville A. C., Johnson C. N., Letnic M., Moseby K. E., Nimmo D. G., Nelson M. P., Read J. L., Ripple W. J., Ritchie E. G., Shores C. R., Wallach A. D., Wirsing Review paper To determine what is a feasible experimental design for assessing the role of dingoes in ecological restoration
9500 Newsome T. M., Greenville A. C., Cirovic D., Dickman C. R., Johnson C. N., Krofel M., Letnic M., Ripple W. J., Ritchie E. G., Stoyanov S. & Wirsing A. J. (2017) Top predators constrain mesopredator distributions. Nat Commun 8, 15469. Pre-existing contrasts ("natural experiment") Proposed the Enemy Constraint Hypothesis, which predicts weakened top-down effects on mesopredators towards the edge of top predators’ ranges.
9502 Prowse T. A. A., Johnson C. N., Cassey P., Bradshaw C. J. A., Brook B. W. & du Toit J. (2015) Ecological and economic benefits to cattle rangelands of restoring an apex predator. J. Appl. Ecol. 52, 455-66. Simulation To investigate whether the restoration of dingoes might provide a net benefit for rangeland vegetation and the profit margins of cattle pastoralists
9491 Ritchie E. G. & Johnson C. N. (2009) Predator interactions, mesopredator release and biodiversity conservation. Ecology Letters 12, 982-98. review paper Review and synthesis of studies of predatorinteractions, mesopredator release and their impacts on biodiversity
9490 Ritchie E. G., Elmhagen B., Glen A. S., Letnic M., Ludwig G. & McDonald R. A. (2012) Ecosystem restoration with teeth: what role for predators? Trends in Ecology & Evolution 27, 265-71. review paper Discuss the economic, environmental and social considerations affecting predator-driven ecological restorationprogrammes, and suggest approaches for reducing the undesirable impacts of predators.
9514 TS Doherty and EG Ritchie (2017) Stop Jumping the Gun: A Call for Evidence-Based Invasive Predator Management. Conservation Letters 10, 15-22. Review To summarize contemporary knowledge regarding the use and challenges of lethal predator control and alternative approaches for reducing predator impacts
9492 van Bommel L. & Johnson C. N. (2012) Good dog! Using livestock guardian dogs to protect livestock from predators in Australia’s extensive grazing systems. Wildlife Research 39, 220-9. survey Aimed to evaluate the effectiveness of livestock guardian dogs and determine the factors influencing effectiveness, in particular in relation to scale of management. Also documented how livestock guardian dogs are managed in Australia, evaluated their cost effectiveness, and identified factors that influence the number of dogs required in different property situations.
9507 van Bommel L. & Johnson C. N. (2014) Where Do Livestock Guardian Dogs Go? Movement Patterns of Free-Ranging Maremma Sheepdogs. PLoS ONE 9, e111444. Manipulative experiment To investigate how much time the Maremmas spent with their livestock, how far they moved outside the ranges of their stock, and tested whether they use their ranges sequentially, which is an effective way of maintaining a presence over a large area
9505 van Bommel L. & Johnson C. N. (2015) How guardian dogs protect livestock from predators: territorial enforcement by Maremma sheepdogs. Wildl. Res. 41, 662-72. Manipulative experiment The aim was to determine whether Livestock guardian dogs behaviour towards predators is consistent with defence of a larger territory that encompasses the stock, or is based on repelling predators that closely approach livestock.
9506 van Bommel L. & Johnson C. N. (2016) Livestock guardian dogs as surrogate top predators? How Maremma sheepdogs affect a wildlife community. Ecology and Evolution, 1-11. Manipulative experiment To investigate the effects of free ranging livestock guardian dogs on four large herbivores and one mesopredator
9515 van Eeden LM, Crowther MS, Dickman CR, Macdonald DW, Ripple WJ, Ritchie EG and Newsome TM (2017) Managing conflict between large carnivores and livestock. Conservation Biology, 32: 26-34. Review To assess the success of predator-livestock conflict mitigation strategies
9493 Wallach A. D., Johnson C. N., Ritchie E. G. & O’Neill A. J. (2010) Predator control promotes invasive dominated ecological states. Ecology Letters 13, 1008-18. Manipulative experiment We tested the idea that state shifts to invasive dominance are symptomatic of losses in ecosystem resilience, due to the suppression of apex predators.
9498 Wallach A.D, Murray B.R and O’Neill A.J.(2009). Can threatened species survive wherethe top predator is absent? Biological Conservation 142, 43-52. correlation with no pre-determined gradient or contrast Does the survival of threatened species indicate a flaw in the top predator hypothesis? The alternative is that the presence and ecological functioning of dingoes have gone unnoticed.
9513 Wallach AD, Dekker AH, Lurgi M, Montoya JM, Fordham DA, Ritchie EG (2016) Trophic cascades in 3D: network analysis reveals how apex predators structure ecosystems. Methods in Ecology and Evolution 8: 135-142 Modelling To examine how dingoes shape ecosystem structure in an Australian arid ecosystem
9494 Wang Y. & Fisher D. O. (2012) Dingoes affect activity of feral cats, but do not exclude them from the habitat of an endangered macropod. Wildlife Research 39, 611-20. Correlational with no pre-determined gradient or contrast examine whether dingoes might spatially or temporally suppress the activity of feral cats at a sitecontaining the sole wild population of an endangered macropod subject to feral cat predation.