July 13, 2024

For the first time, scientists have extracted DNA from the remains of dingoes between 400 and 2,700 years old to find that the predator’s population was well established across the Australian continent thousands of years ago.

According to the researchers, modern dingoes share little genetic ancestry with domestic dogs introduced into Australia from Europe, but are descended from ancient dogs and wolves from China and the Tibetan Plateau. Dingoes were closely related to modern singing dogs in New Guinea, the research confirmed, with both sharing a common ancestor.

Dingoes arrived in Australia between 3,000 and 8,000 years ago, according to the research published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and probably came with Pacific traders on boats.

Scientists collected ancient DNA from the remains of dingoes held in museums, recovered from indigenous sites around Sydney and from caves in South Australia and south-west Western Australia.

Dr Sally Wasef, an expert on ancient DNA from the Queensland University of Technology and a lead author of the research, was tasked with cutting the ancient samples – mostly bone and teeth – for DNA analysis.

She said she was amazed when the carbon dating results found that several of the East Coast specimens were between 700 and 2,700 years old.

“I thought they were fresh samples, so I was really shocked,” said Wasef, who has done previous genetic work on indigenous remains, Egyptian mummies and world war victims.

An ancient female dingo mandible dating to 2,241 years ago, found in Curracurrang in the Royal National Park south of Sydney. Photo: Sally Wasef

“We have to respect these ancient remains because they tell us a story,” she said.

The DNA analysis, including 42 ancient samples, found that the dingo established two distinct regional populations, roughly divided along the Great Divide.

Wasef said previously, these divisions were thought to have formed during post-colonial human activities.

Dr Yassine Souilmi, from the University of Adelaide’s Australian Center for Ancient DNA and Environment Institute and also a lead author of the study, said that two genetically distinct groups also pre-dated the rabbit and dingo proof fence.

“We know that the distinction goes back at least 2,500 years,” he said.

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“We hope people who make decisions about dingoes today now see that these amazing animals have been around for a long time and have had time to harmonize with the environment.”

The modern K’gari dingoes analyzed has no domestic dog ancestry.

Genetic analysis found the ancient dingoes found in a native rock shelter at Curracurrang and modern dingoes living in alpine areas of Victoria and southern New South Wales were particularly close to the singing dog of New Guinea.

The ancient dingo remains from Curracurrang and Sydney’s Balmoral Beach have been held at the Australian Museum, the former since the 1960s.

Prof Jane Balme, from the University of Western Australia and a co-author, said those ancient dingoes were likely companions of Aboriginal people and at Curracurrang were deliberately buried in a rock shelter.

Prof Alan Cooper helped recover specimens from caves in South Australia’s Nullarbor which he said were littered with mummified dingoes that had either fallen into pothole entrances or stalked prey, such as kangaroos, into the caves.

Cooper, an evolutionary biologist at Charles Sturt University, said: “There are thousands of caves and probably thousands of dingoes. Because it’s so dry, they mummify, and as a result are really well preserved.

“You get beautifully laid out samples and you can pick dense bones and get really good genetic information out of them.”

He said the study raised an interesting question about why there was so little mixing between dingoes in the west and in the east, but also suggested there were probably two waves of dingo introductions into Australia.

Cooper is trying to determine whether the introduction of the dingo in Australia pushed the thylacine and Tasmanian devil to extinction on the Australian continent – ​​a question that the study cannot rule out.

Dingoes are sometimes referred to as wild dogs in the context of controlling their numbers. Ongoing DNA studies showed that almost all dingoes retain their ancestry, rather than being hybrids.

Prof Mike Letnic, a dingo expert at the University of NSW who was not involved in the study, said the findings were “good news” because they “put to rest the idea that dingoes are hybrids with no conservation value”. .

“The results add weight to efforts to conserve dingoes because they show that they are a distinct group and that there has been much less hybridization than previously thought.”

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