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  Dingoes may be a native's best friend
Despised and hunted by farmers, the dingo may actually help protect native rodents and marsupials from introduced predators, Australian researchers have shown.

The study, published on the online version of the journal, Animal Conservation, shows the positive effect dingoes have on biodiversity.

In the first field study of its kind, wildlife ecologist and lead author Dr Mike Letnic and colleagues from the University of Sydney, monitored native dusky-hopping mice (Notomys fuscus) at six locations in central Australia near Cameron's Corner.

Three of the study areas are known habitats for dingoes, while the other sites were south of the 5400-kilometre dingo proof fence that runs from the Great Australian Bight to the Bunya Mountains in Queensland - an area where few dingo live.

The researchers found captured dusky-hopping mice at all three of the northern sites, but only one of the southern sites.

Letnic found the presence of dingoes has a positive effect on the abundance of dusky-hopping mice.

"Bigger predators, like dingoes, reduce the abundance and movements of smaller predators, like foxes, through competition and predation" says Letnic.

Although dingoes and foxes are both predators of the dusky-hopping mouse, dingoes are more interested in bigger prey and not as good as foxes at catching them, he says.

Wildlife ecologist Professor Chris Johnson of James Cook University, who was not part of the study, says Letnic's work supports other studies that suggest dingoes protect small mammals like the dusk-hopping mouse and bilby, and help authorities with native species conservation.

"We've lost over 20 species of mammals and that's the worst record of recent mammal extinction of any country in the world," says Johnson. "The main cause is the effect of foxes and cats."

"We need some way of controlling their impact, and at the moment the only way of doing that effectively, on a large scale, is to leave dingoes alone or controversially put them back where they've been gotten rid of."

Since European settlement, dingoes have been hunted because of their predation on livestock, which is estimated to cost the agricultural industry millions of dollars each year. The Northern Territory is the only region dingoes are a protected species.

Letnic believes some dingo populations should be restored or maintained to assist biodiversity.

"Dingoes aren't a silver bullet and it's unrealistic to have dingoes everywhere in the country because we couldn't have a sheep industry, but there have been less extinctions where there are dingoes," he says.
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