Bringing back the wolves: a chance for the dingoes too?

22 March 2013

The re-introduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park offers Fulbright Scholar, Dr Thomas Newsome, the opportunity to ponder the benefits for Australia in using similar measures with dingoes.

Dr Thomas Newsome will study wolves in Yellowstone as the NSW Fulbright  Scholar
Dr Thomas Newsome will study wolves in Yellowstone as the NSW Fulbright Scholar

It was announced yesterday that Dr Thomas Newsome, a School of Biological Sciences alumnus, is the NSW Fulbright Scholar for 2013. Through his Fulbright, Thomas will go to Oregon State University for twelve months to study the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone. "My career goal is to be part of a solution to an issue that has remained unresolved for decades: how to manage dingoes in Australia," said Thomas. This trip to the U.S. will help him on this path by allowing him to study another top-order predator, the wolf.

"The Australian understanding and approach to dingoes is characterised by conflicting and often extreme views on what role the dingo should have, if any," Thomas said. "Research on the dingo is important for two reasons. First, wild dogs, including dingoes, cause millions of dollars of damage to agricultural productivity annually. However, and second, recent studies suggest that the re-introduction of the dingo into areas from which it has been made locally extinct could be the key to restoring Australian ecosystems decimated by introduced predators such as the feral cat and European red fox."

"From a scientific point of view the key questions are whether the dingo has a positive or negative impact on ecosystems and whether it should be reintroduced into areas where it no longer exists. From a social and economic point of view, the questions are whether humans and dingoes can co-exist and, if so, how to manage negative interactions. Due to the contentiousness of the issues, the conflicting interests of stakeholders, and the present uncertainty in the evidence, no reintroduction of the dingo has been trialled."

Thomas is certainly the man to unravel these complex issues and interactions, having studied foxes and dingoes for nearly the past 10 years. He completed a Masters of Applied Science (Wildlife Health and Population Management) studying the range and density of red foxes and a PhD in dingo ecology with a focus on human-resource subsidies, both at the University of Sydney. Also, from the start of this year, Thomas was appointed an honorary research fellow with the Desert Ecology Research Group.

"I became involved in the Desert Ecology Research Group in the School of Biological Sciences through Professor Chris Dickman, who was my supervisor for my Master's thesis and PhD," said Thomas. "I was also involved in various volunteering opportunities over the years, including trips to the Simpson Desert." Thomas now also works as senior ecologist at the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation.

As a Fulbright Scholar, Thomas joins a prestigious tradition of educational scholarship and exchange. For more about the program take a look at the Australian Fulbright website