Rare Wild Singing Dogs Are Not Extinct After All
The New Guinea singing dog is a rare breed of dog that makes a unique howl similar to the song of a humpback whale. Sadly, however, scientists thought its call had been forever silenced in the wild.
Until now. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Monday revealed that a New Guinea population of highland wild dogs were in fact related to the New Guinea singing dogs surviving in captivity.
"For decades we've thought that the New Guinea singing dog is extinct in the wild," study coauthor Heidi G. Parker of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) told The New York Times. "They are not extinct. They actually do still exist in the wild."
You can read the full research paper here: https://t.co/9D44ENkECz.— National Human Genome Research Institute (@National Human Genome Research Institute)1598906612.0
Scientists aren't exactly sure when New Guinea singing dogs first arrived on the island, but they think it was around 3,500 years ago, the same time that dingoes arrived in Australia, according to Science. The dogs were first described in 1897, a press release from the NIH's National Human Genome Research Institute pointed out.
The dogs are especially famous for the singing that gives them their name.
"Most of the singing dog's vocalizations are similar to that of the wolf, dingo, and domestic dog, but their howl is incredibly unique," the San Diego Zoo explained. "Sonograms show the howl is similar to the song of the humpback whale! The singing dog's howl sounds like a yodel, with the tones going up and down. And when in a group, one dog starts singing and others join in at different pitches, each with its own unique voice."
But habitat loss put pressure on this musical canine's population, Science reported, and none had been seen in the wild since the 1970s. It was thought the only ones left were the 200 to 300 living in captivity.
Then, in 2012, an ecotourism guide photographed a wild dog in the highlands of the Indonesian province of Papua on New Guinea, The New York Times reported. That photo was seen by James McIntyre, a researcher and president of the New Guinea Highland Wild Dog Foundation. He secured funding from a company that operated a gold mine near the wild dog sightings and documented 15 dogs in 2016.
Efforts to protect the environment around the Grasberg gold and copper mine had created an inadvertent habitat for the dogs, CNN pointed out. But just documenting the dogs did not prove that they were related to the captive singing dogs. So McIntyre and his team returned in 2018 to take DNA samples.
The result? The highland wild dogs overlapped 70 percent with the captive singing dogs.
"We found that New Guinea singing dogs and the Highland Wild Dogs have very similar genome sequences, much closer to each other than to any other canid known. In the tree of life, this makes them much more related to each other than modern breeds such as German shepherd or bassett hound," Parker said in the press release.
The researchers think that the genetic differences are due to the fact that the captive populations are extremely inbred. Their descendants came from eight dogs brought to the U.S., which is why their wild counterparts have more genetic variation.
The discovery has important conservation implications. The researchers now hope they can breed the wild and captive dogs.
"New guinea singing dogs are rare, they're exotic (and) they have this beautiful harmonic vocalization that you don't find anywhere else in nature, so losing that as a species is not a good thing. We don't want to see this (animal) disappear," study senior author and NIH distinguished investigator Elaine Ostrander told CNN.
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By Katherine Kornei
Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
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