As clear as mud: A critical review of evidence for the ecological roles of Australian dingoes

  • Allen B
  • Fleming P
  • Allen L
 et al. 
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Abstract

Top-predators have been reported to have an important role in structuring food webs and maintaining ecological processes for the benefit of biodiversity at lower trophic levels. This is thought to be achieved through their suppressive effects on sympatric mesopredators and prey. Great scientific and public interest surrounds the potential use of top-predators as biodiversity conservation tools, and it can often be difficult to separate what we think we know and what we really know about their ecological utility. Not all the claims made about the ecological roles of top-predators can be substantiated by current evidence. We review the methodology underpinning empirical data on the ecological roles of Australian dingoes (Canis lupus dingo and hybrids) to provide a comprehensive and objective benchmark for knowledge of the ecological roles of Australia's largest terrestrial predator. From a wide variety of methodological flaws, sampling bias, and experimental design constraints inherent to 38 of the 40 field studies we assessed, we demonstrate that there is presently unreliable and inconclusive evidence for dingoes' role as a biodiversity regulator. We also discuss the widespread (both taxonomically and geographically) and direct negative effects of dingoes to native fauna, and the few robust studies investigating their positive roles. In light of the highly variable and context-specific impacts of dingoes on faunal biodiversity and the inconclusive state of the literature, we strongly caution against the positive management of dingoes in the absence of a supporting evidence-base for such action. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Biodiversity conservation
  • Experimental design
  • Mesopredator release
  • Relative abundance indices
  • Threatened fauna
  • Trophic cascades

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