Wildlife Research Wildlife Research Society
Ecology, management and conservation in natural and modified habitats

An evaluation of genetic analyses, skull morphology and visual appearance for assessing dingo purity: implications for dingo conservation

Amanda E. Elledge A , Lee R. Allen B , Britt-Louise Carlsson C , Alan N. Wilton C and Luke K.-P. Leung A D
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A School of Animal Studies, University of Queensland, Gatton, Qld 4343, Australia.

B Robert Wicks Pest Animal Research Centre, Biosecurity Queensland, Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, Toowoomba, Qld 4350, Australia.

C School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia.

D Corresponding author. Email: luke.leung@uq.edu.au

Wildlife Research 35(8) 812-820 https://doi.org/10.1071/WR07056
Submitted: 17 May 2007  Accepted: 21 August 2007   Published: 16 December 2008


The introgression of domestic dog genes into dingo populations threatens the genetic integrity of ‘pure’ dingoes. However, dingo conservation efforts are hampered by difficulties in distinguishing between dingoes and hybrids in the field. This study evaluates consistency in the status of hybridisation (i.e. dingo, hybrid or dog) assigned by genetic analyses, skull morphology and visual assessments. Of the 56 south-east Queensland animals sampled, 39 (69.6%) were assigned the same status by all three methods, 10 (17.9%) by genetic and skull methods, four (7.1%) by genetic and visual methods; and two (3.6%) by skull and visual methods. Pair-wise comparisons identified a significant relationship between genetic and skull methods, but not between either of these and visual methods. Results from surveying 13 experienced wild dog managers showed that hybrids were more easily identified by visual characters than were dingoes. A more reliable visual assessment can be developed through determining the relationship between (1) genetics and phenotype by sampling wild dog populations and (2) the expression of visual characteristics from different proportions and breeds of domestic dog genes by breeding trials. Culling obvious hybrids based on visual characteristics, such as sable and patchy coat colours, should slow the process of hybridisation.


We thank the Pest Animal Control Cooperative Research Centre for providing the SEQ animals and their corresponding results from genetic analyses. We also sincerely thank Dr Laurie Corbett (EWL Sciences) for measuring the skulls and calculating skull scores. We appreciate the assistance of Peter Elsworth (Department of Natural Resources and Mines) for assistance with animal handling, and Debbie Melville, Philip Herrington and other students and staff of The University of Queensland for assistance with the preparation of skulls. Kevin Strong (Department of Natural Resources and Mines) and Peter Pavlov (formerly of the Department of Natural Resources and Mines) collected the wild dogs from western Queensland, and Heather Janetzki (Queensland Museum) provided us with access to these skulls. Mark Goullet (Ferals Out) captured the wild dogs from SEQ. We graciously thank the wild dog managers, researchers and dingo conservationists for taking the time to participate in our survey. We thank Allan Lisle (UQ) for statistical advice. This study was conducted under approval of The University of Queensland Animal Ethics Committee, reference no. SAS/32/2004.


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