Ancient dingo DNA shows modern dingoes share little ancestry with modern dog breeds

A landmark study of ancient dingo DNA revealed that the distribution of modern dingoes across Australia, including those on K’gari, pre-dates European colonisation and interventions like the dingo-proof fence, co-led research by QUT and University of Adelaide researchers has found.

  • DNA from fossilised dingo remains going back 2746 years compared with modern dingoes’
  • Dingos arrived in Australia more than 3000 years ago
  • K’gari dingoes have no domestic dog ancestry – they are pure dingo

The multidisciplinary research team generated a first-of-its-kind collection of 42 ancient dingo specimens, dating from 400 to 2746 years ago, and compared the data with DNA from modern dingoes, as well as ancient and modern dogs worldwide.

Co-lead author, paleogeneticist Dr Sally Wasef, from QUT’s School of Biomedical Sciences said this dataset gave a rare glimpse into the pre-colonial genetic landscape of dingoes, free from any mixing with modern dog breeds.

“Consequently, are behaviourally, genetically, and anatomically distinct from domestic dogs,” Dr Wasef said.

“Modern-day dingoes’ ancestors arrived in Australia more than 3000 years ago, most likely transported by seafaring people.

2241-year-old female dingo jaw from Curracurrang, Royal National Park, New South Wales,

“The samples we analysed represent the oldest ancient DNA recovered in Australia and indicate broad possibilities of future DNA and conservation work that could be carried out on dingoes and other animals.

“Dingo populations are classified into east and west groups which were previously thought to have formed during post-colonial human activity.

“Our findings show, however, that dingoes’ population structure was already in place thousands of years ago and clarify the genetic heritage of dingoes, while highlighting the importance of using ancient DNA for wildlife conservation.

“For example, all K’gari dingoes we analysed do not have any domestic dog ancestry, proving they preserve their full ancestral heritage.

400-year-old female dingo skull from Skull Cave,

Augusta, Western Australia

“Although we studied only a small number of K’gari dingoes, our findings highlight the importance and usefulness of our pre-colonial ancient genomic data to conserving our unique native animals.

“Due to poor human behaviour that causes some dingoes to become habituated to seeking food from tourists, several problem dingoes have been culled, which is concerning given their small population size.”

Co-lead author Dr Yassine Souilmi, from the University of Adelaide’s Australian Centre for Ancient DNA and Environment Institute, said the unique dataset of ancient dingo DNA had helped to uncover crucial details about the ancestry and migration patterns of the modern-day dingo.

“Dingoes had distinct regional populations, split roughly along the Great Dividing Range, long before the European invasion of Australia, and certainly predating the dingo-proof fence,” Dr Souilmi said.

“The DNA analysis also showed less interbreeding between dingoes and modern dogs than was previously thought, with our research confirming today’s dingoes retain much of their ancestral genetic diversity.

“Dingoes hold significant cultural importance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and play an essential role in the Australian ecosystem.

“Understanding their historical population structure helps us preserve the dingo’s role in Australian ecology and culture.

“Dingoes are currently under threat from lethal culling programs, and our research highlights the importance of protecting populations in national parks and beyond.”

Ancient genomes reveal over two thousand years of dingo population structure was published in PNAS.

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