Ancient DNA uncovers dingo’s hidden heritage

Dingo jaw. Credit: Sally Wasef

A dingo jaw, collected from Curracurrang Rockshelter, Royal National Park on Tharawal country, NSW. Credit: Sally Wasef

 

 

A landmark collaborative study co-led by the University of Adelaide and QUT has revealed the distribution of modern dingoes across Australia pre-dates European colonisation and interventions like the dingo-proof fence.

The multidisciplinary research team generated a first-of-its-kind collection of 42 ancient dingo specimens, dating from 400 to 2,746 years ago, and compared the data with DNA from modern dingoes, as well as ancient and modern dogs worldwide.

“This unique dataset of ancient dingo DNA helped us uncover crucial details about the ancestry and migration patterns of modern-day dingo,” said lead author Dr Yassine Souilmi from the University of Adelaide’s Australian Centre for Ancient DNA and Environment Institute.

Dingo populations are classified today into East and West groups. It was previously thought these groups were formed due to post-colonial human activity.

“Our findings indicate dingoes’ population structure was already in place thousands of years ago,” said Dr Souilmi.

"It appears they 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.”Dr Yassine Souilmi, lead author, University of Adelaide

The DNA analysis also showed there has been less interbreeding between dingoes and modern dogs than previously thought, with the research confirming today's dingoes retain much of their ancestral genetic diversity.

“This dataset gives us a rare glimpse into the pre-colonial genetic landscape of dingoes, free from any mixing with modern dog breeds,” said co-lead author Dr Sally Wasef, a Forensic Research Fellow from QUT.

“These samples represent the oldest ancient DNA recovered in Australia and are an amazing indication of the possibilities of future DNA and conservation work that can be carried out on dingoes and other animals.”

The outcomes of this study, to be published in the prestigious journal PNAS, clarify the genetic heritage of dingoes, and highlight the importance of using ancient DNA in wildlife conservation.

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

"Understanding the historical population structure helps us preserve the dingo's role in Australian ecology and culture.

“Dingoes are currently under threat from lethal culling programs, and our research highlights the importance of protecting populations which exist in national parks and beyond.”

Tagged in featured story, dingo, research, DNA, Ancient DNA