Doctor Nicholas Colman


Nicholas ColmanGraduated PhD 2015

Thesis Title

Morphological variation and ecological interactions of Australia's apex predator (Canis dingo)

Research Project

Restoring the ecological role of top predators is an urgent global issue for biodiversity conservation. Recent research shows that dingoes, Australia's largest terrestrial predator, have beneficial effects for biodiversity conservation by dampening the impacts of invasive predators. However, since European settlement, the dingo had been influenced by hybridization with feral dogs resulting in dingo-dog hybrids.

The lack of a formal species description for the dingo hampers efforts to identify and conserve pure populations of dingoes and prevents development of clear policies for the management of hybrids.

My objective is to resolve the taxonomic status of dingoes through a comparative study of pre-18th century through to modern dingo specimens, quantifying the internal (skull) and external (pelt) morphological variation of dingoes across Australia overtime and in doing so disentangle hybridisation from geographical variation.

To achieve this I will take measurements of the skulls of approximately 3000 dingoes from locations throughout Australia, including approximately 60 specimens from cave deposits that pre-date European settlement and analyse these to identify natural groupings.

Thus far six hundred skulls have been measured. I will then investigate if there has been change over time in the morphology of dingoes by examining time series of natural groupings of dingoes. The results will reveal if there have been morphological changes in the dingo overtime that are indicative of hybridisation.

If skull morphological variation exists between dingoes and dingo-dog hybrid how would this affect the ecological role of the hybrid? To answer this question, I will investigate the ecological role of dingo-dog hybrids in forested landscapes of eastern NSW.

Sites will be selected in areas where wild dog populations are subjected to intensive control and will be contrasted against adjacent locations, of similar habitat, where the wild dog is afforded protection. Intensive fauna survey methodologies will be employed at each site and canid scats will be collected to analyse diet and to determine the level of hybridisation (via DNA analysis).

Wildlife managers require clear resolution on both the identity and ecological impact of wild canids in order to make informed management strategies. The knowledge provided by my research will allow managers to make informed decisions that seek to conserve dingoes and their ecological processes.

Research Project Supervisors

Dr Christopher Turbill, Dr Mike Letnic, Dr M Crowther


Parr WCH, Wilson LAB, Wroe S, Colman NJ, Crowther MS, Letnic M, (2016) 'Cranial Shape and the Modularity of Hybridization in Dingoes and Dogs; Hybridization Does Not Spell the End for Native Morphology', Evolutionary Biology, vol.43, no.2, pp 171-187

Colman NJ, Crowther MS, Letnic M, (2015) 'Macroecological patterns in mammal abundances provide evidence that an apex predator shapes forest ecosystems by suppressing herbivore and mesopredator abundance', Journal of Biogeography, vol.42, no.10, pp 1975-1985

Colman NJ, Gordon CE, Crowther MS, Letnic M, (2015) 'Response to Allen 'An alternative hypothesis to the conclusion of Colman et al. (2014)', Proceedings of the Royal Society B, vol. 282, no.1799,  20141845

Colman NJ, Gordon CE, Crowther MS, Letnic M, (2014) 'Lethal control of an apex predator has unintended cascading effects on forest mammal assemblages', Proceedings of the Royal Society B, vol.281, no.1782, 20133094

Crowther MS, Fillios M, Colman N, Letnic M, (2014) 'An updated description of the Australian dingo (Canis dingoMeyer, 1793)', Journal of Zoology, vol.293, no.3, pp 192-203

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