Free-roaming Dogs: Friend or Foe in Natural Ecosystems?

Project Number
RI 1/14 NL

Project Duration
December 2015 - December 2018

Status
In-Progress

Abstract
With the explosion in human population globally, the accompanying land use changes have resulted in habitat reduction and the decimation of larger-bodied animals, particularly apex consumers. Besides exerting predation pressure on prey species,apex consumers can exert profound effects on the lower trophic levels of the food web; one mechanism through which this can happen is mesopredator release — a phenomenon whereby medium-sized consumers increase in numbers significantly and negatively impact the lower trophic levels in the absence of top predators. Undisputedly, the most abundant mesopredator globally is the free-roaming domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris). However, empirical ecological research on free-roaming dogs is severely lacking, with only 35 studies published and none of them conducted in tropical Southeast Asia. Domestic dogs often come in contact with native wildlife and may have caused the extinction of three vertebrate species globally. But they do not always have negative impacts to native ecosystems — out of 35 empirical studies focusing on their ecological impacts, three found neutral impact and four reported positive effects. Singapore, having lost more than the majority of her primary vegetation and apex predators to urban development, also faces the situation whereby free-roaming dogs are present at nature reserves. With the global move towards evidence-based environmental management, it is only with rigorous scientific studies that we can better understand the impacts of urbanisation on the remaining natural places and wildlife. In this study, we will (i) investigate the basic ecology of free-roaming domestic dogs in and around nature reserves, particularly their diet and movement patterns, before (ii) assessing the ability of free-roaming dogs to control abundance of other mesopredators and boosting native biodiversity. We will also examine the movement patterns and diet of domestic dogs at oil palm plantations in Malaysia in order to be able to generalise the findings beyond the altered and unique environment of Singapore to other parts of Southeast Asia. In addition to using modern automated equipment like GPS collars and bioacoustics system to maximise data collection, we will complement such methodologies with manual surveys and molecular techniques to address some of their limitations. Besides disseminating the findings via conference presentations and scientific publications, we will compile the findings and recommendations in reports to major stakeholders (e.g., National Parks Board, Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore, and Borneo Rhino Alliance) so as to guide policy-making for sound conservation and management in nature reserves of tropical countries, including Singapore.

Funding Source
NIE

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