A University of NSW Sydney study has ended an argument about whether or not dingoes have an effect on feral cat populations in the outback, finding that the wild dogs do indeed keep the wild cat numbers down.
In a paper published recently, the researchers compared dingo and feral cat populations either side of the world’s longest fence which also doubles as the border between South Australia and NSW.
The fence was erected in the 1880s in an attempt to keep dingoes from attacking sheep flocks in NSW and Queensland.
With a very small number of dingoes on the NSW side of the fence and much larger number on the SA side, the fence offered a perfect opportunity to observe feral cat numbers in identical environments with and without the influence of dingoes.
Professor Mike Leitnic from the Centre for Ecosystem Science, UNSW School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, said during the course of a six-year study — between 2011 and 2017 — he and his fellow researchers compared the numbers of dingoes, cats and their major prey species either side of the dingo fence in the Strzelecki Desert.
Co-author Dr Ben Feit said early on in the study, dingo and cat numbers on the SA side appeared to fluctuate along with the numbers of their rabbit and hopping-mice prey, but from 2013 onwards, dingo numbers remained high while cat numbers remained low for the duration of the study.
Feral cats are a serious conservation threat and have been linked to the extinction of at least 20 mammal species in Australia and threaten the ongoing survival of more than 100 native species.