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Top predators as biodiversity regulators: the dingo Canis lupus dingo as a case study

Authors

  • Mike Letnic,

    Corresponding author
    1. Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, University of Western Sydney, Locked Bag 1797, Penrith, NSW, Australia, 2751
    2. Institute of Wildlife Research, School of Biological Sciences, University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia
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  • Euan G. Ritchie,

    1. School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, Burwood, Victoria, 3125, Australia
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  • Christopher R. Dickman

    1. Institute of Wildlife Research, School of Biological Sciences, University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia
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(E-mail: m.letnic@uws.edu.au).

Abstract

Top-order predators often have positive effects on biological diversity owing to their key functional roles in regulating trophic cascades and other ecological processes. Their loss has been identified as a major factor contributing to the decline of biodiversity in both aquatic and terrestrial systems. Consequently, restoring and maintaining the ecological function of top predators is a critical global imperative. Here we review studies of the ecological effects of the dingo Canis lupus dingo, Australia's largest land predator, using this as a case study to explore the influence of a top predator on biodiversity at a continental scale. The dingo was introduced to Australia by people at least 3500 years ago and has an ambiguous status owing to its brief history on the continent, its adverse impacts on livestock production and its role as an ecosystem architect. A large body of research now indicates that dingoes regulate ecological cascades, particularly in arid Australia, and that the removal of dingoes results in an increase in the abundances and impacts of herbivores and invasive mesopredators, most notably the red fox Vulpes vulpes. The loss of dingoes has been linked to widespread losses of small and medium-sized native mammals, the depletion of plant biomass due to the effects of irrupting herbivore populations and increased predation rates by red foxes. We outline a suite of conceptual models to describe the effects of dingoes on vertebrate populations across different Australian environments. Finally, we discuss key issues that require consideration or warrant research before the ecological effects of dingoes can be incorporated formally into biodiversity conservation programs.

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