Collaborative study reveals K’gari wongari genetically healthy

A two-year scientific study of wongari (dingoes) on K’gari (formerly known as Fraser Island) has shown their social groups cannot be genetically distinguished from each other, but they are easily distinguishable from mainland dingoes.

Senior Ranger Dr Linda Behrendorff said the cooperative study between the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS), the Butchulla Aboriginal Corporation (BAC), the University of Southern Queensland and the University of Cape Town was conducted to assess the current genetic status of the wongari population on the island.

“Across 20 years, 243 ear tip tissue samples were collected, and 144 of those samples were used for the DNA analyses,” Dr Behrendorff said.

“Using genome-wide SNP analysis, the samples were compared to determine genetic similarities among individuals in the K’gari population, along with samples taken from nearby mainland dingoes.

“The results showed that although the wongari clearly live in separate social packs on the island, they disperse across the island and mate or mix with each other frequently enough that they all appear part of one large island pack from a genetic point of view.

“In the absence of migrant dingoes from the mainland, inbreeding levels among the island individuals are expectedly high and likely to increase over time, which is predicted for a small and isolated population of many species.

“The analysis also reveals that dingoes on the island have become more related over the study period, but researchers have found no signs of physical abnormalities associated with inbreeding from this study in the population.

“The wongari appear genetically healthy and population numbers on the island do not appear to be declining.

“The absence of abnormalities and the stable population shows the island population has not yet exceeded its tolerance for inbreeding.

“Genetic studies of isolated mainland dingo populations have also found similar high levels of inbreeding.”

Dr Behrendorff said the genetic ancestry of the island’s wongari has changed over time, with certain alleles (versions of genes) becoming more prevalent in the past 25 years.

“The findings also suggest there is no evidence of recent connectivity between dingoes on the mainland and the island, or no evidence that dingoes are moving on or off the island and assimilating into nearby local populations,” she said.

“This change may be the result of one or more long-lived individuals becoming highly successful at raising litters and spreading their genes throughout the island over many years.

“The removal of 32 wongari in 2001 might also have contributed to this genetic change.

“That change we see in the past has since stabilised, and the current genetic status of the island’s population reflects the current and ongoing ecological and demographic processes within the population.”

Butchulla Aboriginal Corporation Chair Gayle Minnicon said people had to treat K’gari and the wongari with respect.

“This report confirms that to sustain the genetic health of the purest strain of dingo, the protection and long-life survival of the K’gari wongari requires all people to follow and adhere to the BAC/QPWS management rules,” Ms Minnicon said.

“Residents and visitors to the island must respect Butchulla cultural practices and traditional lore.”

Dr Behrendorff said the report’s recommendations include continued research and specific genetic and demographic monitoring of the island’s wongari population.

“We routinely collect and store tissue samples from all dingoes we handle on the island, including those captured for ear-tagging and those found deceased,” she said.

“The wongari on K’gari is a sustainable population, and we will continue to monitor the genetic health and use the findings to continue monitoring for any changes in the genetic health of the island’s apex predator.”

Read the Genetic health and status of K’gari wongari (Fraser Island dingoes) .

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