Large DNA study to determine genetic makeup of dingoes, wild dogs and hybrids

The largest study investigating the nation’s wild dog populations for their dingo purity is underway. 

The National Wild Dog Geneflow project is a wide-ranging genetic study led by the NSW Department of Primary Industries Vertebrate Pest Research Unit and Zoological Genetics.

The study seeks to differentiate free-roaming dogs according to their percentage of dingo genetics, and to determine which ones are closely related to each other and the regional subpopulations to which each animal belongs.

The Vertebrate Pest Research Unit’s Senior Principal Research Scientist Dr Peter Fleming presented the preliminary findings to the National Wild Dog Action Plan Coordination Committee research update.

Dr Fleming said by knowing the area over which related animals are distributed, land managers can estimate what area is required for effective control and the necessary collaboration between groups or regions, and that dingo purity also interests many people.

Up until August 2022, 8343 DNA samples had been collected from deceased wild dogs by wild dog control personnel or from small biopsies or cheek swab from animals captured for research – to date 8000 samples have been analysed and about 40 per cent of them were pure dingoes.

Dr Fleming said the term “wild dogs” included all wild-living or free-roaming dogs and the national wild dog population could be subdivided into regional sub-populations, local groups and families.

“Nearly 30 per cent of the samples were hybrids between dingoes and domestic dogs and most of those were from south-eastern Australia – there were very few samples below 50 per cent dingo genetics and pure domestic dogs were extremely rare in the wild sub-populations.”

The National Wild Dog Action Plan advocates for the management of wild dogs, dingoes and their hybrids where they are a risk to agriculture, communities and biodiversity.

This leaves a significant part of the country where dingoes, wild dogs and their hybrids can reside unharmed. 

Read new research from Fleming et al. on the genetic structuring of the dingo here.