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

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 http://dx.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.


Banks S. C. Horsup A. Wilton A. N. Taylor A. C. 2003 Genetic marker investigation of the source and impact of predation on a highly endangered species. Molecular Ecology 12 1663 1667 doi:10.1046/j.1365-294X.2003.01823.x

Barilani M. Deregnaucourt S. Gallego S. Galli L. Mucci N., et al 2005 Detecting hybridization in wild (Coturnix c. coturnix) and domesticated (Coturnix c. japonica) quail populations. Biological Conservation 126 445 455 doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2005.06.027

Corbett L. 1985 Morphological comparisons of Australian and Thai dingoes: a reappraisal of dingo status, distribution and ancestry. Proceedings of the Ecological Society of Australia 13 277 291

Corbett L. (1995). ‘The Dingo in Australia and Asia.’ (University of New South Wales Press: Sydney.)

Corbett L. (2001). The conservation status of the dingo Canis lupus dingo in Australia, with particular reference to New South Wales: threats to pure dingoes and potential solutions. In ‘A Symposium on the Dingo’. (Eds C. R. Dickman and D. Lunney.) pp. 10–19. (Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales: Sydney.)

Cyranoski D. 2005 Japan jumps towards personalized medicine. Nature 437 796

Daniels M. J. Corbett L. 2003 Redefining introgressed protected mammals: when is a wildcat a wild cat and a dingo a wild dog? Wildlife Research 30 213 218 doi:10.1071/WR02045

Elledge A. E. Leung L. K.-P. Allen L. R. Firestone K. Wilton A. N. 2006 Assessing the taxonomic status of dingoes Canis familiaris dingo for conservation. Mammal Review 36 142 156 doi:10.1111/j.1365-2907.2006.00086.x

Fleming P. , Corbett L. , Harden R. , and Thomson P. (2001). ‘Managing the Impacts of Dingoes and Other Wild Dogs.’ (Bureau of Rural Sciences: Kingston.)

Francisco L. V. Landgston A. A. Mellersh C. S. Neal C. L. Ostrander E. A. 1996 A class of highly polymorphic tetranucleotide repeats for canine genetic mapping. Mammalian Genome 7 359 362 doi:10.1007/s003359900104

Fredholm M. Winter A. K. 1995 Variation of short tandem repeats within and between species belonging to the Canidae family. Mammalian Genome 6 11 18 doi:10.1007/BF00350887

Holmes N. G. Mellersh C. S. Humphreys S. J. Binns M. M. Holliman A. Curtis R. Sampson J. 1993 Isolation and characterization of microsatellites from the canine genome. Animal Genetics 24 289 292

Jones E. 1990 Physical characteristics and taxonomic status of wild canids, Canis familiaris, from the eastern highlands of Victoria. Australian Wildlife Research 17 69 81

McPhee M. E. 2004 Morphological change in wild and captive oldfield mice Peromyscus polionotus subgriseus. Journal of Mammalogy 85 1130 1137 doi:10.1644/BPR-017.1

Mellersh C. Holmes N. Binns M. Sampson J. 1994 Dinucleotide repeat polymorphisms at four canine loci (LEI003, LEI007, LEI008 and LEI015). Animal Genetics 25 125 126

Mellersh C. S. Langston A. A. Acland G. M. Fleming M. A. Ray K. Wiegand N. A. Francisco L. V. Gibbs M. Aguirre G. D. Ostrander E. A. 1997 A linkage map of the canine genome. Genomics 46 326 336

Milham P. Thompson P. 1976 Relative antiquity of human occupation and extinct fauna at Mudura Cave, south-eastern Western Australia. Mankind 10 175 180

Miller C. R. Adams J. R. Waits L. P. 2003 Pedigree-based assignment tests for reversing coyote (Canis latrans) introgression into the wild red wolf (Canis rufus) population. Molecular Ecology 12 3287 3301

Newsome A. E. Corbett L. K. 1982 The identity of the dingo. II. Hybridisation with domestic dogs in captivity and in the wild. Australian Journal of Zoology 30 365 374 doi:10.1071/ZO9820365

Newsome A. E. Corbett L. K. 1985 The identity of the dingo. III. The incidence of dingoes, dogs and hybrids and their coat colours in remote and settled regions of Australia. Australian Journal of Zoology 33 363 375 doi:10.1071/ZO9850363

Newsome A. E. Corbett L. K. Carpenter S. M. 1980 The identity of the dingo. I. Morphological discriminants of dingo and dog skulls. Australian Journal of Zoology 28 615 625 doi:10.1071/ZO9800615

Ostrander E. A. Sprague G. F. Jr. Rine J. 1993 Identification and characterization of dinucleotide repeat (CA)n markers for genetic mapping in dog. Genomics 16 207 213 doi:10.1006/geno.1993.1160

Primmer C. R. Matthews M. E. 1993 Canine tetranucleotide repeat polymorphism at the VIAS-D10 locus. Animal Genetics 24 332

Rasmussen P. W. Wheeler W. E. Moser T. J. Vine L. E. Sullivan B. D. Rusch D. H. 2001 Measurements of Canada goose morphology: sources of error and effects on classification of subspecies. Journal of Wildlife Management 65 716 725

Sanderson A. (1981). ‘The Complete Book of Australian Dogs.’ (The Currawong Press: Sydney.)

Thomson P. C. 1992 The behavioural ecology of dingoes in north-western Australia. I. The Fortescue River study area and details of captured dingoes. Wildlife Research 19 509 518 doi:10.1071/WR9920509

Trut L. N. 1999 Early canid domestication: the farm–fox experiment. American Scientist 87 160 169

Trut L. N. Plyusnina I. Z. Oskina I. N. 2004 An experiment on fox domestication and debatable issues of evolution of the dog. Russian Journal of Genetics 40 644 655

Vaha J.-P. Primmer C. R. 2006 Efficiency of model-based Bayesian methods for detecting hybrid individuals under different hybridization scenarios and with different numbers of loci. Molecular Ecology 15 63 72 doi:10.1111/j.1365-294X.2005.02773.x

Wilton A. (2001). DNA methods of assessing dingo purity. In ‘A Symposium on the Dingo’. (Eds C. R. Dickman and D. Lunney.) pp. 49–56. (Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales: Sydney.)

Wilton A. N. Steward D. J. Zafiris K. 1999 Microsatellite variation in the Australian dingo. Journal of Heredity 90 108 111 doi:10.1093/jhered/90.1.108

Woodall P. F. Pavlov P. Twyford K. L. 1996 Dingoes in Queensland, Australia: skull dimensions and the identity of wild canids. Wildlife Research 23 581 587 doi:10.1071/WR9960581

Export Citation