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Assessing the taxonomic status of dingoes Canis familiaris dingo for conservation

Authors

  • AMANDA E. ELLEDGE,

    1. School of Animal Studies, University of Queensland, Gatton, Queensland 4343, Australia,
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  • LUKE K.-P. LEUNG,

    Corresponding author
    1. School of Animal Studies, University of Queensland, Gatton, Queensland 4343, Australia,
      L. Leung. E-mail: k.leung1@uq.edu.au
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  • LEE R. ALLEN,

    1. Robert Wicks Pest Animal Research Centre, Department of Natural Resources, Toowoomba, Queensland 4350, Australia,
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  • KAREN FIRESTONE,

    1. Australasian Conservation Genetics Centre, Zoological Parks Board of NSW, Mosman, New South Wales 2088, Australia,
    2. School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales 2052, Australia,
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  • ALAN N. WILTON

    1. School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales 2052, Australia
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  • Editor: AK

L. Leung. E-mail: k.leung1@uq.edu.au

ABSTRACT

  • 1The conservation status of the dingo Canis familiaris dingo is threatened by hybridization with the domestic dog C. familiaris familiaris. A practical method that can estimate the different levels of hybridization in the field is urgently required so that animals below a specific threshold of dingo ancestry (e.g. 1/4 or 1/2 dingoes) can reliably be identified and removed from dingo populations.
  • 2Skull morphology has been traditionally used to assess dingo purity, but this method does not discriminate between the different levels of dingo ancestry in hybrids. Furthermore, measurements can only be reliably taken from the skulls of dead animals.
  • 3Methods based on the analysis of variation in DNA are able to discriminate between the different levels of hybridization, but the validity of this method has been questioned because the materials currently used as a reference for dingoes are from captive animals of unproven genetic purity. The use of pre-European materials would improve the accuracy of this method, but suitable material has not been found in sufficient quantity to develop a reliable reference population. Furthermore, current methods based on DNA are impractical for the field-based discrimination of hybrids because samples require laboratory analysis.
  • 4Coat colour has also been used to estimate the extent of hybridization and is possibly the most practical method to apply in the field. However, this method may not be as powerful as genetic or morphological analyses because some hybrids (e.g. Australian cattle dog × dingo) are similar to dingoes in coat colour and body form. This problem may be alleviated by using additional visual characteristics such as the presence/absence of ticking and white markings.
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