Dingoes rather between dog and wolf, according to a study

published on Friday, April 22, 2022 at 9:02 p.m.

In appearance, dingoes may be closest to stray dogs, but these canids are actually genetically nested between wolves and dogs, according to a new study published Friday in Science Advances.

The species, revered in Australian aboriginal culture but reviled by ranchers, has become the island-continent’s No.1 predator since the Tasmanian tiger disappeared over the past century.

However, “the position of the dingo on the evolutionary scale has been a source of cleavages for a long time”, told AFP the co-author of the study, Bill Ballard, of La Trobe universities and Melbourne.

Some believe that the slender, reddish-brown canids, introduced to Australia between 5,000 and 8,500 years ago, are merely an alternative form of the domesticated dog.

The new study, a collaboration of 26 authors from 10 countries, compared the genome of a female desert dingo named Sandy, rescued in 2014 with her siblings, to those of five species of tame dogs and that of the Greenland wolf. .

Their discovery: the genome of the dingo is structurally distinct from that of the boxer, the German shepherd, the basenji (or terrier of the Congo), the great dane, or even the Labrador.

But Sandy’s genome still had more similarities with these domestic dogs than with the Greenland wolf. Of the breeds sampled, the dingo was closest to the German Shepherd.

“Sandy the desert dingo is in an intermediate position between the wolf and the domestic dogs”, concluded Bill Ballard, who to have the clear heart will also with his team sequence the genome of the alpine dingo, a species of the Australian Alps, in east of the country.

– A romanticized image –

The team of researchers hope their research into the evolution of the dingo will shed light on the history of the ancient peoples who brought them with them from Southeast Asia.

“At a certain point, they had to cross an arm of water with certain nomadic peoples”, underlines Bill Ballard.

“If they are Aboriginal Australians, or people who have come into contact with Aboriginal peoples, we do not know,” continues the researcher.

Once the alpine dingo’s genome has been sequenced, the research team hopes to learn more about the timeline of events and begin to answer other questions, including whether it was a single migration, or in multiple episodes. .

Like the wolf in North America, the dingo is a source of deep division. On the one hand, its image is romanticized by urban populations and it plays a prominent role in indigenous culture, but on the other, the animal is hated by farmers who fear its alleged attacks on livestock.

According to Bill Ballard, who has also studied the metabolism of dingoes, these canids, however, evolved to hunt small marsupials, and are not able to easily digest foods high in fat. It is more likely that the lambs are hunted by wild dogs or hybrids.

He hopes to be able to test this theory in future behavioral studies, and thus exonerate the dingo.


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