Did dingoes colonise Australia once or were there multiple introductions with seafaring traders?

A project undertaken at the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, University of New South Wales, and supervised by William Ballard.

The dingo is an ancient dog that has been isolated on the Australian continent for at least 5,000 years. Today, dingoes are common across most of central, northern and western Australia and are also present on some Australian islands. It is Australia’s top-level carnivore.

Since colonization the dingo has been in the public spotlight. Despite the constant public interest and media attention our scientific understanding of the genetics and biology of the emblematic Australian icon is startlingly inadequate. At the most fundamental level it is not known whether the dingo is a single large genetically homogeneous population or whether it is heterogeneous and local variation exists.

The central goal of the project is to employ population genetics to determine the evolutionary history of the Australian dingo. First, we explored the presence of geographic subdivision in the dingo using whole mitochondrial genomes and thirteen nuclear loci of 25 dingoes from 5 geographically distinct populations. This analysis identified evidence of two distinct populations of dingo that diverged outside of Australia and are likely the result of independent introductions with seafaring traders.

Second, we conducted a broad survey of genetic variation in dingoes utilising mitochondrial and Y chromosome markers. This study also observed two distinct lineages of dingoes. However, mixing between the lineages was observed more commonly at the paternal markers suggesting high male dispersal rates.

Third, we explored the presence of geographic subdivision in dingoes using whole genome single nucleotide polymorphism data. The presence of three distinct populations was observed with one of these plausibly resulting from hybridization between the lineages. A set of diagnostic markers has been identified for future genetic surveys of dingoes to explore biogeography.