Dingo skull shape resistant to changes from hybridization

Researchers believe the resistance of the dingo's skull shape is likely the result of the dingo's large gene pool.
By Brooks Hays   |   March 9, 2016 at 2:41 PM

SYDNEY, March 9 (UPI) -- Humans and climate change aren't the only threats to vulnerable species. Sometimes it's another species, and not a predator but a potential sexual partner.

Researchers have worried hybridization with dogs might eventually wipe out the dingo, Australia's largest land predator, but a new study suggests the dingo's most significant anatomical quality, the shape of its skull, is resistant to change as a result of cross breeding.

The findings were published this week in the journal Evolutionary Biology.

"We know that cross breeding has an effect on the dingo gene pool but what we didn't know until now is whether cross breeding changes the dingo skull," lead study author William Parr, a postdoctoral research fellow at University of New South Wales, said in a news release. "This study has shown us that the dingo skull shape, which in part determines feeding ability, is more dominant than dog skull shapes."

Conservationists and biologists were concerned that an altered skull might lead to unforeseen physiological and ecological consequences -- a chain reaction triggered by changing feeding habits.

CT scans and computer modeling suggest interbreeding has not affected the shape of dingo skulls.

Researchers believe the resistance of the dingo's skull shape is likely the result of the dingo's large gene pool, compared the narrower gene pools of domestic dog breeds.

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

Researchers say their work can be used to study how other species might be affected by interbreeding with domestic and invasive species.

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

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