Research Alert

Worldwide, dogs (Canis familiaris) are certainly the most common domesticate (900 million according to the World Atlas) and are sometimes used as a proxy for human presence. Dogs were the first and therefore arguably most important species ever to be domesticated. It is widely accepted that the domestic dog is a descendent of Pleistocene gray wolves (Canis lupus), possibly of a population now extinct. How can an extant canid, the dingo (Canis dingo or Canis familiaris), whose status as a species and as a domesticate is controversial, improve our understanding of the ancient process of domesticating the dog? Here I review anatomical, behavioral, biogeographic, and molecular evidence on the appropriate status of dingoes in a historical context. Dingoes are now the major apex predator in Australia aside from humans. Different sources of evidence have suggested different times of arrival in Greater Australia for humans and canids and different degrees of intimacy or domestication between humans and canids. Just as domestic dogs are often accorded near‐human status, dingoes have special relationships with human families, but reproductively and behaviorally they remain independent. In sum, traits of the dingo reflect its lupine ancestry, a certain degree of accommodation to human company, and unique adaptations to the demands of its habitat. Emphasizing that domestication is a long‐term process, not an event, helps clarify the ambiguous status of dingoes.

Journal Link: The Anatomical Record, 2020;1–12

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The Anatomical Record, 2020;1–12