Dingo skull resistant to change from cross breeding with dogs, research shows

March 9, 2016
A 3-D skull reconstructed from a CT scan superimposed on an image of a dingo in outback Australia The different colored points on the cranium indicate regions of cranial shape that change together through evolution and breed development, but not during hybridisation. Credit: Karen Black 2012, modified by W.C.H. Parr

Australia's largest predator, the dingo, is resistant to one of the main threats to its survival as a species—changes to skull shape brought about by cross breeding (hybridisation) with dogs, research shows.

A UNSW study published today in Evolutionary Biology has found the dingo remains unchanged by cross breeding, overturning long-held fears that cross breeding may result in the loss of the predator's ecological niche.

"We know that cross breeding has an effect on the dingo gene pool but what we didn't know until now is whether changes the dingo skull," said study lead author Dr William Parr, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at UNSW Medicine's Surgical and Orthopaedic Research Laboratory.

"This study has shown us that the dingo skull shape, which in part determines feeding ability, is more dominant than dog skull shapes," Dr Parr said.

Conservationists and ecologists had worried that any change in the animals' skull shape through hybridisation could alter feeding habits, potentially causing knock-on effects throughout the entire ecosystem.

The UNSW research team used medical CT (computed tomography) scanners to make 3D models of the skulls of dingoes, domestic dogs and hybrids. They then used sophisticated 3D shape analyses to determine whether skulls could be correctly assigned to one of the three groups based on their shape.

A visual comparison of the different skull shapes for a dingo, hybrid and wild caught dog. Can you tell the difference? The pink skull is the dingo, the purple skull is the hybrid and the green skull is the wild dog breed. Credit: W.C.H. Parr

The researchers found hybrid skulls were indistinguishable from those of the dingo, meaning they could not tell the difference with the naked eye or statistically.

Canis dingo was largely isolated from other canids (dogs, wolves, foxes, jackals) after it was introduced to the Australian continent around 3,000 years ago. But this changed when European settlers arrived with .

The researchers think that the dominance of the dingo skull shape is most likely due to recessive, potentially adverse, traits being fixed in dogs, with many breeds having narrower gene pools than the dingo.

The sample average skull with the 3-D points used in the statistical analyses of shape. The points are coloured according to the 10 shape units identified by the study. These units influence skull shape change through evolution and breed development, but not during cross breeding. Credit: W.C.H. Parr

"This is the result of selective breeding to maintain breed standards, or selecting for useful working traits," Dr Parr said.

Study co-author Dr Laura Wilson, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at UNSW Science's School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, said relatively little is known about how different regions of the skull may alter on a short time scale, such as after a hybridisation event as seen with dogs and dingoes.

"Those patterns have implications for understanding variation in the wild, which is important for predicting how an animal may respond to future ecological challenges," Dr Wilson said.

Explore further: Dingoes, like wolves, are smarter than pet dogs

More information: William C. H. Parr et al. Cranial Shape and the Modularity of Hybridization in Dingoes and Dogs; Hybridization Does Not Spell the End for Native Morphology, Evolutionary Biology (2016). DOI: 10.1007/s11692-016-9371-x

Related Stories

Dingoes, like wolves, are smarter than pet dogs

June 11, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Studies in the past have shown that wolves are smarter than domesticated dogs when it comes to solving spatial problems, and now new research has shown that dingoes also solve the problems well.

Dingo a distinct species, study says

April 1, 2014

(Phys.org) —The dingo has been classified as a distinct Australian animal following research that sheds new light on its defining physical characteristics.

Recommended for you

Herbicides can't stop invasive plants. Can bugs?

August 31, 2016

Over the past 35 years, state and federal agencies have spent millions of dollars and dumped untold quantities of herbicides into waterways trying to control the invasive water chestnut plant, but the intruder just keeps ...

Smarter brains are blood-thirsty brains

August 30, 2016

A University of Adelaide-led project has overturned the theory that the evolution of human intelligence was simply related to the size of the brain—but rather linked more closely to the supply of blood to the brain.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.