Saturday, July 5, 2014

An OZ interconnection story

Image above: The Dingo Fence is one of the world's longest man made structures. In fact it is also the world's longest fence, stretching across Queensland and South Australia. The Dingo Fence is 5,614 kilometres long.

Related links to Spatialworlds 
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Australian Geography Teachers' Association website    

Where am I??  
Adelaide, Australia: S: 34º 55' E: 138º 36'

An Australian example of environmental interconnection

in a previous Spatialworlds posting, in reference to the Australian Curriculum: Geography interconnection concept,I showcased the fascinating environmental interconnection example of the wolves in the Yellowstone National Park. When I recently showed that wonderful video on the wolves at a geography workshop one of the participants directed me to a parallel interconnection story, this time about the dingo in Australia. 

After years of being killed, defamed, restricted in movement (the dingo fence) and generally seen as a pest, some farmers and ecologists are speaking out about  the important role the dingo did and can play in the Australian ecology.  They even go so far as to suggest that it may be a good thing for the environment to re-introduce them to areas where they have been previously been restricted and/or eradicated.  Here is the story from a recent ABC Bush Telegraph story.

Dingo researcher Lyn Watson believes farmers might soon want to restock their properties with dingoes. Watson, who runs the Dingo Discovery Research Centre north of Melbourne, is trying to breed a viable population to re-introduce into the environment. 

'Now it's being proven that ... leaving dingoes alone is actually leading to better control of herbivores that are in competition for the grass,' say Watson.
'I think many of the enlightened farmers are starting to come around now.'

Arian Wallach, ecologist at Evelyn Downs station, South Australia  agrees, and has set up one of the country's first 'predator-friendly, dingo-friendly cattle stations' at Evelyn Downs in South Australia.

'We cannot have a pastoral system without a healthy ecosystem and we can't have healthy ecosystems without dingoes'

'We have to start letting go of how things were done one hundred years ago and move into a predator-friendly pastoral stations.'

Wallach's farm runs a herd of over 1000 cattle, and lost eight calves last year to dingoes. But she says that's 'a small price to pay for the ecological services [dingoes] provide'.

Arian and her husband, Adam O'Neil have developed the Dingo Diversity Project to study the role of large apex predators in a healthy of ecosystem.

'They are Australia's top order predator and the health of the ecosystem—its biodiversity, its productivity, the condition of it's soil, the rivers, the endangered species—are all tightly linked up with the dingo,' she says.

Watson, for her part, admits that dingoes can be a threat to livestock.

'Farmers have brought northern hemisphere, prey species to Australia and put them right in the territory of the predator,' she says. 'It was just a natural progression that there was going to be a collision.'
'Dingoes do not want to eat sheep. They can't. Sheep are fat and dingoes can't digest fat. But they will kill anything that runs and panics because that is what triggers the prey drive.'

There is increasing pressure to control wild dogs in grazing areas and Lyn thinks the dingo is unfairly caught up in the debate.

'The term wild dog was conveniently put into legislation in order to put the dingo on the pest animal list and not get it on the protected list,' she said.

Will we continue to see the dingo as a pest or embrace their re-introduction into areas of  Australia? Just like the wolves in Yellowstone, we may not know how important they are until we re-introduce them - they too may cause trophic cascades that we cannot predict and even impact positively on the physical geography of Australia.

Footnote: On 13 December, 2014 the article 'More Dingoes, fatter cows" appeared in the Adelaide Advertiser. The article supported the premise of the above interconnection story when it said:

"New Adelaide University reserch has found that cattle graziers could increase their net profits if they stop dingo control measures on their properties." 

The article went on to say that profits could be incerased because dingoes prey on kangaroos, so with fewer kangaroos there would be more grass for cattle to eat, which would equate to fatter and more profitable livestock. The research was recently published in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

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