ABSTRACT

Controversy about the nomenclature and taxonomy of dingoes has sparked interest in their complex identity. At the root of taxonomy debates are differences in the species concepts employed, differing opinions about the domestication status of dingoes (and their ancestors) and a simplistic handling of the complex evolutionary relationship between wolves, dingoes and domestic dogs. I explore the relationship of dingoes to village dogs, modern breed dogs and wolves using genome-wide SNP data and discuss the implications of these findings to the ongoing debate about dingo identity and nomenclature. Importantly, despite controversy about what to call dingoes and whether they are a full species, these animals represent an important, distinct and unique evolutionary unit worthy of high conservation priority, as a native species. There is growing concern about the spread of domestic dog genes into dingo populations, particularly in southeastern Australia, and the impact this has on conservation goals. However, the discovery of biogeographic subdivision within dingoes raises questions about the accuracy of the current methods used for estimating dog vs dingo ancestry. I caution scientists and wildlife managers to carefully consider the limitations of current ancestry estimate methods when assessing DNA test results. Future work using genome-wide DNA technology to improve dingo ancestry estimates will be fundamental to ongoing debate about what dingoes are, how to identify dingoes and how to conserve them.

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