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Dingoes Not Entirely Responsible for Extinction of Predators in Australia

Sep 10, 2013 05:37 AM EDT

(Photo : Reuters )

Dingoes, the legendary Australian wild-dog breed, have long been blamed for the extinction of Tasmanian tiger (or thylacine) and the Tasmanian devil. However, a new study from University of Adelaide says that the aborigines and climate change probably contributed to the death of the animals.

The Tasmanian tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus) and the devil disappeared from the mainland about 3,000 years ago. Modern scientific literature suggested that the exploding dingo population in the continent killed the other predators.

"Perhaps because the public perception of dingoes as 'sheep-killers' is so firmly entrenched, it has been commonly assumed that dingoes killed off the thylacines and devils on mainland Australia," said Dr Thomas Prowse, one of the researchers.

"There was anecdotal evidence too: both thylacines and devils lasted for over 40,000 years following the arrival of humans in Australia; their mainland extinction about 3000 years ago was just after dingoes were introduced to Australia; and the fact that thylacines and devils persisted on Tasmania, which was never colonised by dingoes," Prowse said.

But, most studies conducted on the extinction of the Tasmanian tiger missed crucial factors- the climate change and increase in the aboriginal population, Prowse added.

The current study was based on mathematical models that recreated environment of the ancient times. The models generated the interactions between potential cause for the extinctions- climate change, dingo and humans, the viability of tiger and devil population and the effect on herbivorous prey.

The study showed that although the arrival and rise of dingo in Australia had an impact on the population of other predators in the region, it didn't lead to a complete wipe-out of the devil or the tiger.

Researchers argue that both thylacines and the devil population remained in Tasmania because the human density was low in the region and not due to the absence of the dingoes.

The study 'An ecological regime shift resulting from disrupted predator-prey interactions in Holocene Australia' is published in the journal Ecology.

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