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07-11-2024

Dingoes and modern dogs share very little DNA

In a fascinating turn of events, an exciting new study has brought to light intriguing discoveries about modern-day dingoes and their DNA.

Delving into the pre-colonial genetic landscape, the study peers back in time, unearthing the roots of these native Australian dogs, thereby shedding light on their unique lineage and importance to the nation’s ecosystem.

Genetic purity of dingoes’ DNA

Ancient DNA, procured from dingo remains that date back as far as 2746 years, has been compared with that of modern dingoes.

By doing so, the researchers were able to reveal a surprising fact: these contemporary animals share little to no genetic material with current dog breeds.

Specifically, the K’gari dingoes, researched during the study, exhibit no trace of domestic dog ancestry, making them pure dingoes.

“This dataset gave a rare glimpse into the pre-colonial genetic landscape of dingoes, free from any mixing with modern dog breeds. Consequently, they are behaviorally, genetically, and anatomically distinct from domestic dogs,” explained paleogeneticist Dr Sally Wasef, from QUT’s School of Biomedical Sciences, one of the co-authors of the study.

This finding challenges previous assumptions about the genetic makeup of modern dingoes and highlights their unique evolutionary path.

It also raises questions about the resilience of dingo populations in maintaining their genetic integrity despite centuries of potential interbreeding opportunities with domestic dogs.

Journey of ancestral dingoes DNA

Based on the evidence unearthed, it appears that the ancestors of today’s dingoes first arrived in Australia more than 3000 years ago, likely brought by seafaring people.

The research also highlighted the fact that dingo populations are classified into eastern and western groups. This division was previously thought to have occurred during post-colonial human activity.

However, it’s now revealed that this population structure was already in place thousands of years ago, even before any human intervention.

Dr Yassine Souilmi, from the University of Adelaide’s Australian Centre for Ancient DNA and Environment Institute, is another co-lead of this study.

“The unique dataset of ancient dingo DNA helped to uncover crucial details about the ancestry and migration patterns of the modern-day dingo,” Souilmi noted.

“Dingoes had distinct regional populations, split roughly along the Great Dividing Range, long before the European invasion of Australia, and certainly predating the dingo-proof fence.”

This revelation about the long-standing population structure of these wild canines provides valuable insights into their adaptation to different Australian environments and their role in various ecosystems across the continent.

DNA of the matter

Notably, the DNA analysis dispelled previous assumptions of extensive interbreeding between dingoes and modern dogs. Instead, the evidence suggests that today’s dingoes retain much of their ancestral genetic diversity.

“Dingoes hold significant cultural importance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and play an essential role in the Australian ecosystem,” emphasized Dr. Souilmi.

“Understanding their historical population structure helps us preserve the dingo’s role in Australian ecology and culture.”

The study, which represents the oldest ancient DNA recovered in Australia, was conducted by scientists from QUT’s School of Biomedical Sciences and the University of Adelaide. It has opened broad possibilities for future DNA and conservation work, especially as it pertains to dingoes and other animals.

Unquestionably, the significance of these findings propels forward the urgency to protect dingo populations in national parks and beyond, especially in light of current lethal culling programs.

The research, titled ‘Ancient genomes reveal over two thousand years of dingo population structure,’ was published in PNAS.

Implications for conservation efforts

The revelation of the genetic purity and unique heritage of Australia’s dingoes has significant implications for conservation strategies.

Understanding their distinct genetic composition and historical population structures can inform policies aimed at preserving habitats and preventing further genetic dilution from interbreeding with domestic dogs.

Conservationists argue that protecting these animals is not only vital for maintaining biodiversity but also crucial for respecting the cultural heritage of Indigenous communities for whom they hold profound significance.

The study’s findings advocate for enhanced protection measures and highlight the need for collaborative efforts between scientists, Indigenous communities, and policymakers to ensure the sustainable future of these iconic creatures.

The full study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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