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.