There’s a 5,500 km dingo fence between Queensland and Western Australia. On one side dingoes have been culled to the point where they hardly exist in order to protect livestock. On the other side dingoes live as they live elsewhere in Australia.
The fence has created two ecosystems, one on each side of it. Researchers discovered two things because of this.
The dingo is a top predator. On the side where dingoes were virtually absent, feral cat numbers followed fluctuations in available prey. In other words as the availability of animals to eat increased, cat numbers increased and vice versa.
Conversely, on the other side of the fence, where dingoes were common, feral cat numbers were consistently lower. There, both cat and dingo numbers followed fluctuations in availability of prey. From the end of 2015, the researchers found that feral cats had almost disappeared from the area that they were studying. This was a dramatic reduction in cat numbers.
They put this down to “interference competition”. This means dingoes killing some cats and scaring other cat’s away from habitats which they would usually occupy.
The conclusion is that dingoes can help in conservation efforts by keeping down feral cat numbers.
Culling Dingoes Has a Domino Effect
Referring once again to this 5,500 km fence, it was also found that once you remove a top predator from the landscape you create a cascading effect downwards. Many aspects of the landscape are affected. It’s called a “trophic cascade”.
In this instance once the dingoes were removed there was an increase in feral cat and red fox numbers. These animals decimated the numbers of many small rodent and marsupial species whose includes seedlings of the low desert shrubs. Their absence resulted in the shrubs growing in greater abundance. This led to the shrubs providing more shade which allowed heat sensitive plant species to survive. This increased vegetation which improved the structural integrity of the sand dunes. This altered the way the wind flows and shifts across the landscape.
The end result was higher and more varied dunes on the side of the fence were there were no dingoes.
Comment: for me, the moral of the story is that governments should be very cautious about killing predators. I wonder if by removing feral cats from Australia which is an avowed objective of the federal government, it would affect the Aussie ecosystem in an unexpected and negative way.
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