Dingo vocal communication: A tool for conservation?

A project undertaken at the Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, and supervised by Jennifer Clarke

The dingo is an iconic Australian mammal. Dingoes serve important ecological functions, such as controlling macropod populations and benefiting small vertebrate species through the suppression of introduced mesopredators. While they conflict with human interests, costing millions each year to the livestock industry, they can also benefit the tourism industry, as is the case on Fraser Island. Dingoes’ mixed impacts have resulted in on-going discussions over their conservation and management.

However, to design and assess the success of conservation and management programs, we need tools that can provide an accurate understanding of the population’s dynamics. Currently, such tools are often costly, invasive and/or inadequate.

In this project we aimed to test whether acoustic surveys could be an effective, alternative tool to monitor wild dingo populations. Acoustic monitoring has been proposed to be particularly appropriate when the species of interest is shy, cryptic or remotely located, as is the case for dingoes. Furthermore, acoustic surveys have no negative impacts on animal welfare as they take advantage the natural vocal behaviour of the species, and as such provide an ethical alternative to more invasive, traditional methods such as physical trapping.

Outcome

Dingoes, like other wild canids, produce howl vocalisations which appear to function in inter- and intra-pack interactions. Using acoustic analyses, we demonstrated that these vocalisations convey identity and sex information, which are salient to receivers. Additionally, we demonstrated that howl vocalisations propagate up to 1200m. As such, these characteristics make the howl the ideal candidate vocalisation to use in acoustic surveys.

Following from this, we compared the effectiveness of acoustic surveys (passive vs active) and camera-trap surveys in varying landscapes during three field seasons. The preliminary results suggest that acoustic surveys may have limited success in highly vegetated and/or mountainous environments. Furthermore, although active acoustic surveys require less intensive computing than passive acoustic or camera-trap surveys, they are more challenging to perform in the field and yield a lower amount of quality data. Finally, camera-trap surveys are more sensitive than acoustic surveys and as such, are more reliable when dingo densities are low.

Overall, although promising, acoustic surveys may not bear sufficient advantages as compared to more traditional methods such as camera-trap surveys to warrant their widespread implementation for dingo monitoring.

Publications

Déaux, E.C., Allen, A.P, Clarke, J.A. and Charrier, I. (2016). Concatenation of 'alert' and 'identity' segments in dingoes' alarm calls. Scientific Reports, 6, 30556. doi:10.1038/srep30556

Déaux, E.C., Charrier, I., and Clarke, J.A. (2016). The bark, the howl and the bark-howl: identity cues in dingoes' multicomponent calls. Behavioural Processes, 129, 94-100

Déaux, E.C., Clarke, J.A. and Charrier, I. (2016). Dingo howls: the content and efficacy of a long-range vocal signal. Ethology, 122, 649-659.

Collaborators

Queensland Parks and Wildlife Services
Australian Wildlife Conservancy
Colong Station
Secret Creek Reserve

Figure 1. Juvenile Fraser Island dingo captured on a camera-trap

 

Figure 1. A series of three howl vocalisations from a wild dingo recorded at Charnley-River - Artesian Range Sanctuary, WA