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Is the Australian wild dog, the dingo, really a “unique species”?

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Dingo, Queensland beach/© p a w e l / Fotolia

What does that say about speciation? From ScienceDaily:

Since the arrival of British settlers over 230 years ago, most Australians have assumed dingoes are a breed of wild dog. But 20 leading researchers have confirmed in a new study that the dingo is actually a unique, Australian species in its own right.

The “dog” origin very much argues against the concept of a new species. The dingo is simply an Australian wild dog, period.

We have them in Canada too. But we didn’t make them into cultural icons.

Following previous analyses of dingo skull and skin specimens to come to the same conclusion, these latest findings provide further evidence of specific characteristics that differentiate dingoes from domestic dogs, feral dogs, and other wild canids such as wolves.

The finding that a dingo is a dingo, and not a dog, offers an opposing view compared to another recent study that the Government of Western Australia used to justify its attempt to declare the dingo as ‘non-fauna’, which would have given more freedom to landowners to kill them anywhere without a license.

We get it. You want to protect dingoes from culling. And the “biological species concept” (drumroll please!) is such a mess that you can say anything you want.

Co-author Professor Corey Bradshaw of Flinders University in South Australia says the classification of dingoes has serious consequences for the fragile ecosystems they inhabit, and state governments are required to develop and implement management strategies for species considered native fauna.

“In fact, dingoes play a vital ecological role in Australia by outcompeting and displacing noxious introduced predators like feral cats and foxes. When dingoes are left alone, there are fewer feral predators eating native marsupials, birds and lizards.”

Any pack of wild dogs would do the same thing. Letting them do it is probably a prudent policy but it is not a scientific classification.

“Dingoes can also increase profits for cattle graziers, because they target and eat kangaroos that otherwise compete with cattle for grass in semi-arid pasture lands,,” says Professor Bradshaw.

We should reasonably ask whether the graziers agree with that. Not that their view should decide ecology policy altogether but, being in the business, you’d think they would know whether the dingo is more likely to prey on tame animals than wild ones.

Lead author, Dr Bradley Smith from Central Queensland University, says the scientific status of the dingo has remained contentious, resulting in inconsistency in government policy. Paper. (paywall) – Bradley P. Smith, Kylie M. Cairns, Justin W. Adams, Thomas M. Newsome, Melanie Fillios, Eloïse C. Déaux, William C. H. Parr, Mike Letnic, Lily M. Van Eeden, Robert G. Appleby, Corey J. A. Bradshaw, Peter Savolainen, Euan G. Ritchie, Dale G. Nimmo, Clare Archer-Lean, Aaron C. Greenville, Christopher R. Dickman, Lyn Watson, Katherine E. Moseby, Tim S. Doherty, Arian D. Wallach, Damian S. Morrant, Mathew S. Crowther. Taxonomic status of the Australian dingo: the case for Canis dingo Meyer, 1793. Zootaxa, 2019; 4564 (1): 173 DOI: 10.11646/zootaxa.4564.1.6 More.

Yes, we see. They want to protect the dingo, mainly for Australian cultural reasons. Fine. Why not just admit that instead of cooking up some nonsense about “speciation”? It seems there are no intellectual reputation costs for contributing to the sludge pile of folk evolution myths.

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Toby, top cat

“At least that dingo is distinguishable from a rat! Not all dogs can say as much.” – Toby, on behalf of Tom, Dick, and Toby, feline editorial assistants at UD News

See also: A physicist looks at biology’s problem of “speciation” in humans

Speciation: A bread yeast and a yeast that causes infections turn out to be the same species

The concept of a “species,” as in On the Origin of Species, may well be in itself a dated idea, especially where fast-reproducing unicellular life forms are concerned. A measure that capture fluidity is needed. 

Study: Species are “compact clusters in the vastness of empty sequence space.”

Monkeys more closely related to sister species than same species in different locations?

Endangered giant Chinese salamander is at least five different “species”


Nothing says “Darwin snob” like indifference to the mess that the entire concept of speciation is in. 

This vid from Australia’s government broadcaster gives some sense of the mood: The presenter refers to the dingo as a “dangerous predator” rather than a pet, as if that would not be true of any feral canine. Hey, that’s what feral canines are. In Canada, we know them principally as coyotes and wolves. The “dog” is a human creation, on loan only. – O’Leary for News)

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The “dog” origin very much argues against the concept of a new species. The dingo is simply an Australian wild dog, period. We have them in Canada too. But we didn’t make them into cultural icons.
Actually you did. Bob O'H

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