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Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 39(1)

Reintroducing the dingo: the risk of dingo predation to threatened vertebrates of western New South Wales

B. L. Allen A C and P. J. S. Fleming B

A The University of Queensland, School of Animal Studies, Gatton, Qld 4343, Australia.
B Vertebrate Pest Research Unit, NSW Department of Primary Industries, Orange Agricultural Institute, Forest Road, Orange, NSW 2800, Australia.
C Corresponding author. Present address: Vertebrate Pest Research Unit, NSW Department of Primary Industries, Sulfide Street, Broken Hill, NSW 2880, Australia. Email: benjamin.allen@dpi.nsw.gov.au

Wildlife Research 39(1) 35-50 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WR11128
Submitted: 20 July 2011  Accepted: 8 November 2011   Published: 30 January 2012

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Context: The reintroduction of dingoes into sheep-grazing areas south-east of the dingo barrier fence has been suggested as a mechanism to suppress fox and feral-cat impacts. Using the Western Division of New South Wales as a case study, Dickman et al. (2009) recently assessed the risk of fox and cat predation to extant threatened species and concluded that reintroducing dingoes into the area would have positive effects for most of the threatened vertebrates there, aiding their recovery through trophic cascade effects. However, they did not formally assess the risk of dingo predation to the same threatened species.

Aims: To assess the risk of dingo predation to the extant and locally extinct threatened vertebrates of western New South Wales using methods amenable to comparison with Dickman et al. (2009).

Methods: The predation-risk assessment method used in Dickman et al. (2009) for foxes and cats was applied here to dingoes, with minor modification to accommodate the dietary differences of dingoes. This method is based on six independent biological attributes, primarily reflective of potential vulnerability characteristics of the prey. Individual-attribute scores were used to derive an overall risk score.

Key results: Up to 75 (94%) of the 80 extant species were predicted to be at risk of dingo predation (71% at high risk) regardless of any effect dingoes might have on foxes or cats. Up to 17 of the 21 (81%) locally extinct species were predicted to be at high risk of dingo predation using this approach. The re-establishment of even low-density dingo populations may have negative effects on at least 22% of extant threatened vertebrates.

Conclusions: The generic risk-assessment method was insensitive, and experienced difficulty in describing the true nature of canid predation risk. Despite this weakness, however, it is clear that several threatened vertebrates are susceptible to dingo predation. Prior to the re-establishment of dingoes, we recommend that dingo predation risks to all vertebrates (threatened or otherwise) be assessed using more sensitive and descriptive techniques, and we strongly caution against the positive management of dingoes under current ecological conditions.

Implications: The results of this study imply that dingoes present similar levels of direct risk to threatened species as foxes and feral cats, and dingo predation of threatened species should be formally considered in any proposal encouraging dingo populations in western New South Wales.

Additional keywords: apex predator, Canis lupus dingo, mesopredator suppression, predation-risk assessment, reintroduction, threatened fauna.


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