The presence of dingoes on farms can bring significant economic gains to graziers, an Adelaide study has revealed.
Researchers from the University of Adelaide Environment Institute found that the presence of “apex predators”, dingoes, could curb kangaroo numbers and therefore preserve the food source of cattle.
The report shows that in optimum conditions cattle farmers could gain up to $0.83 per hectare more – or $83,000 per 100,000-hectare station – when dingoes naturally control kangaroos.
The study, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, says many farmers poison and shoot dingoes because the wild dogs often kill livestock, in particular sheep and young calves.
However, the appetite of dingoes for large herbivores such as kangaroos and wild goats is an asset not a concern, researchers say.
“The long-term sustainability of farming livestock relies on there being enough vegetation around for cattle and sheep to eat,” lead author Dr Thomas Prowse said.
“Where there are too many herbivores on one piece of land, livestock will eat less pasture, grow more slowly, and sell for lower prices at the market.
“Poisoning and fencing (against dingoes) are therefore financially counter-productive.”
Researchers developed a mathematical model to simulate the food chain and cattle enterprise activity and then assessed trade-off between livestock density, kangaroo abundance, calf losses and dingo control.
The model showed that the improvements to pasture resulting from dingoes controlling kangaroos should outweigh the negative impacts of dingoes killing some calves.
It showed that under normal stocking conditions in outback Australia with unbaited dingoes and controlled kangaroos, pasture biomass increased by 53kg a hectare.
Prowse said in some parts of Australia research suggested up to 40 per cent of pasture was eaten by herbivores other than cattle and sheep, particularly by kangaroos.
“By helping dingoes thrive, we expect improved biomass of native pastures through the reduction of kangaroo populations – and improved returns to cattle graziers,” he said.
“I think farmers need to think about how much vegetation they are losing to herbivores that they’re not actually trying to farm.”
He also said dingo control of kangaroos can also improve the long-term health of the farming land.
“Too many herbivores can lead to overgrazing, which in turn leads to soil erosion and negative effects on the seed bank,” Prowse said.
“Dingoes can help solve these problems by controlling the abundance of competing herbivores.”
He did warn that this theory was specific to cattle farms and that for sheep farming regions, further support was needed to balance the eco-system.
“Dingoes can kill sheep more easily than calves, so if dingoes were to be restored to regions where sheep farming is common, guardian dogs might be required to protect flocks,” he said.
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