Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Conservation Needs More Bite

Credit: Angus McNab

Recent science suggests that the dingo holds the key to protecting mainland Australia's unique biodiversity. Credit: Angus McNab

By Euan Ritchie

What role can devils and dingoes play in curbing Australia’s rate of species extinctions?

Euan Ritchie lectures in ecology at Deakin University.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

It is apparent to anyone walking through the Australian bush that there is little to be concerned about – other than deadly snakes and spiders. In Australia, unlike in Africa’s savannas or North America’s forests, you won’t be eaten by a large predator.

However, less than 50,000 years ago Australia had a diverse group of large predators, including the thylacine (Tasmanian tiger), a mainland devil species, marsupial lion (Thylacoleo) and crocodile-sized varanid lizards (Megalania). While it is a relief that we don’t have to worry about becoming another species’ meal, the absence of these and other large predators is still impacting our ecosystems.

What is even more concerning is that this is representative of a global trend – the dramatic loss of top predators from environments. For example, large mammalian carnivores (e.g. wolves, bears and many large cats) and sharks have declined by more than 90% in many parts of the world. The gray wolf was estimated to have a population size of over 200,000 prior to European arrival in the United States, but now probably numbers less than 5000.

Why does it matter if some species disappear, and aren’t we better off without them? The answer is a resounding no, as demonstrated by a recent and considerable body of work dedicated to understanding the ecological roles of predators and how these affect humans in ways...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.