Evolutionary Biology

, Volume 43, Issue 2, pp 171–187 | Cite as

Cranial Shape and the Modularity of Hybridization in Dingoes and Dogs; Hybridization Does Not Spell the End for Native Morphology

  • William C. H. ParrEmail author
  • Laura A. B. Wilson
  • Stephen Wroe
  • Nicholas J. Colman
  • Mathew S. Crowther
  • Mike Letnic
Research Article


Australia’s native wild dog, the dingo (Canis dingo), is threatened by hybridization with feral or domestic dogs. In this study we provide the first comprehensive three dimensional geometric morphometric evaluation of cranial shape for dingoes, dogs and their hybrids. We introduce a novel framework to assess whether modularity facilitates, or constrains, cranial shape change in hybridization. Our results show that hybrid and pure dingo morphology overlaps greatly, meaning that hybrids cannot be reliably distinguished from dingoes on the basis of cranial metrics. We find that dingo morphology is resistant, with observed hybrids exhibiting morphology closer to the dingo than to the parent group dog. We also find that that hybridization with dog breeds does not push the dingo cranial morphology towards the wolf phenotype. Disparity and integration analyses on the ten recovered modules provided empirical support for modularity facilitating shape change over short evolutionary time scales. However, our results show that this is may not be the case in hybridization events, which were not influenced by module integration or disparity levels. We conclude that although hybridization events may introduce breed dog DNA to the dingo population, the native cranial morphology, and therefore likely the feeding eco-niche, of the dingo population is resistant to change. Our results have implications for conservation and management of dingoes and, more broadly, for the influence of integration patterns over ecological time scales in relation to selection pressure.


Functional modules Geometric morphometrics Cranial morphology Functional morphology Canis Dingo Hybridization 



Robert Palmer (Australian National Wildlife Collection, CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences) and Sandy Ingleby (Australian Museum) provided access to their collections. We thank Eleanor Cunningham and the Calvary Mater Hospital (Newcastle) and Kathy Hughes (Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney) for assistance with CT scanning, and Karen Black (UNSW) for kindly providing the photograph of a dingo. We thank Christopher Tan for providing additional CT of dog breeds. We thank David Polly for making modularity code available and for help in its implementation. LABW is supported by the Australian Research Council (ARC) (DE150100862). Funding to MSC and ML was provided by the Asia Pacific Science Foundation and an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Grant (DP0987985) to SW.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors have no conflict of interest to declare

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • William C. H. Parr
    • 1
    • 6
    Email author
  • Laura A. B. Wilson
    • 2
  • Stephen Wroe
    • 3
  • Nicholas J. Colman
    • 2
    • 4
  • Mathew S. Crowther
    • 5
  • Mike Letnic
    • 2
  1. 1.Surgical and Orthopaedic Research Laboratory (SORL), Level 1, Clinical Sciences Bld, Gate 6, Prince of Wales Clinical SchoolUniversity of New South Wales (UNSW)SydneyAustralia
  2. 2.School of Biological, Earth and Environmental SciencesUniversity of New South Wales (BEES)SydneyAustralia
  3. 3.Form, Evolution and Anatomy Research Laboratory, Zoology, School of Environmental and Rural SciencesUniversity of New EnglandArmidaleAustralia
  4. 4.Hawkesbury Institute for the EnvironmentUniversity of Western SydneyPenrithAustralia
  5. 5.School of Biological SciencesUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  6. 6.Prince of Wales Clinical School, Faculty of MedicineUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia

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