The story begins when a few Chinese dogs jump ashore from a boat.

“No matter how you get to Australia, you have to travel across open seas for at least 50 km–a journey no large land-based animal has ever undertaken without human assistance, as far as we know. Therefore, there is good
reason to believe that the ancestors of the dingo jumped ashore in Australia together with people who went there by boat,” says Peter Savolainen at the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, who has directed the work.

The study also shows that the dingo has been genetically isolated for at least 3,500 years and therefore constitutes a unique vestige that has preserved the appearance of early domesticated dogs. The results answer a question many researchers have posed about the yellow wild dog in Australia and what it really is. The study is now being published in the prestigious scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA. The article is being pre-published this week at PNAS Online Early Edition.

Peter Savolainen and his associates have studied the DNA from 211 dingos and compared it with the corresponding DNA of more than 600 domesticated dogs and wolves to find similarities and differences. The number of differences in the DNA indicates not only possible relationships but also provides information about how long ago various species and races parted ways.

Half of the DNA samples from the dingo are identical with each other, and the remaining ones differ only at individual sites. Such tiny variations in DNA support the theory that the ancestors of the dingo arrived in Australia late (5,000 years ago) and indicate that mixing of DNA from new individuals has been extremely limited since then.

Peter Savolainen and his associates from Australia and New Zealand have been able to establish great similarities between the DNA of the dingo and that of dogs from Southeast Asia, which points to the dingo being a domesticated dog that became wild rather being a wild dog from the beginning. The similarity also bolsters the theory that the dingo stems from Southeast Asia and not India, which has been an alternative hypothesis since certain races of dogs in India have a skeleton that clearly brings to mind the dingo.

A set of other facts strengthen the conclusions from the genetic studies. The Dingo evinces great similarities in appearance with today’s domesticated dogs; the oldest archeological evidence of the dingo in Australia is from 3,500 years ago; and the dingo does not inhabit Tasmania, which separated from the rest of Australia 12,000 years ago. Their ancestors coming to Australia 5,000 years ago also harmonizes well with the fact that at that time Chinese peoples colonized the archipelago outside Australia.

This research into the origin of the dingo has been conducted by Peter Savolainen in collaboration with scientists from Australia and New Zealand and builds on the acclaimed results from the same research team presented a couple of years ago regarding the origin of the domesticated dog.

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Peter Larsson

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