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Developing Signal-based tools for non-lethal predator management

Background

Dingoes are estimated to have arrived in Australia around 4000 years ago and as an apex species, have helped to shape and regulate ecosystems over this time. Management of dingoes in Australia is primarily driven by the interests of the livestock industry and is typified by the use of physical barriers and lethal control. At the same time there is also an increasing understanding that dingoes have cascading benefits on ecosystems, including suppressing invasive species. A more nuanced approach to dingo management, with the aim of protecting livestock while retaining the ecosystem benefits of dingoes, is therefore much needed.

This project aims to develop biologically relevant predator management tools based on the dingo's natural communication system. As in many carnivores, dingoes communicate territorial ownership using scent-marks and vocalizations. These signals may also affect the space-use of subordinate predators including invasive predators, and therefore potentially lead to improved conservation of threatened and non-threatened native species. Understanding how long particular critical signals persist in dingo scent marks under natural conditions is critical to applying these territorial signals to manage the movements of dingoes in key areas including around reintroduction sites and livestock areas.

 

Update

UNSW Honours student, Ben Walker, supervised by Dr Neil Jordan, has undertaken scent collection work at the Dingo Discovery Centre, north of Melbourne to determine and quantify changes in the chemical composition of dingo urine.

Studies are being conducted using Gas-Chromatography Mass-Spectrometry (GCMS) analysis of urine to determine the information content of dingo signals.

Scent exposure trials have been conducted at Taronga Western Plains Zoo, with individual scents split and these sub-samples exposed to the elements for different lengths of time. GCMS analysis on these samples will reveal how long the key messages persist, which is ultimately essential in devising a schedule for deploying scents as part of a conservation management tool.

Scent presentation experiments have been conducted in the Strezlecki desert. Preliminary assessments suggest that repeat visits to dingo scents were much reduced compared to control sites. Comprehensive analysis needs to occur, but this is an exciting indication that dingo scent may have a repellent effect on other dingoes and highlights its potential use as a non-lethal management tool.  

Project Partners

Taronga: Dr Neil Jordan, Dr Alicia Burns

UNSW: Ben Walker, Associate Professor Michael Letnic, Associate Professor Tracey Rogers

NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service: Stephen Smith, Rachael Kempers

Wild Spy PTY: Rob Appleby