Context . Many rare and endangered species are threatened by the effects of hybridisation with their domesticated and often numerically dominant relatives. However, factors that influence interactions between hybridising species are poorly understood, thus limiting our ability to develop ameliorative strategies.
Aims . Here, we identify family groups and investigate patterns of gene flow between dingoes (Canis lupus dingo) and domestic dogs (C. l. familiaris) in the Tanami Desert of central Australia. We aimed to determine whether human-provided resources facilitate hybridisation or alter typical patterns of dingo breeding and social behaviour. We also ask whether remote townships are arenas for dingo–dog hybridisation.
Methods . Tissue samples and morphological details were collected from dingo-like animals around two mine sites where humans provide abundant supplementary food and water. Using molecular DNA analyses, we assigned animals to population clusters, determined kinship and the numbers of family groups. Rates of hybridisation were assessed around the mines and in two nearby townships.
Key results . Of 142 samples from mine sites, ‘pure’ dingoes were identified genetically in 89% of cases. This predominance of dingoes was supported by our observations on coat colour and body morphology. Only 2 of 86 domestic dogs sampled at the two townships showed evidence of dingo ancestry. Around the mine sites, there were two distinct population clusters, including a large family group of 55 individuals around a refuse facility.
Conclusions . Where superabundant and consistent food, and reliable water, was available, dingo packs were much larger and co-existed with others, contrary to expectations derived from previous research. Dingo sociality and pack structures can therefore be altered where human-provided food and water are constantly available, and this could facilitate accelerated rates of hybridisation.
Implications . The development of appropriate domestic-waste management strategies should be a high priority in remote areas to ensure only normal rates of population increase by dingoes, and other canids more broadly. It will also potentially impede hybridisation rates if typical canid social and behavioural traits remain intact. Additionally, areas surrounding remote human settlements are likely arenas for accentuated dingo–domestic dog interactions and should be a target for future studies.