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Expert to track down world’s largest predators

By Katie Weiss

Dr Arian Wallach will compare land and sea predators in her study. Photographer: Lyn Watson Dr Arian Wallach will compare land and sea predators in her study. Photographer: Lyn Watson

A dingo expert will use her prestigious Churchill Fellowship to investigate the ecological impacts of some of the world’s largest predators.

Charles Darwin University researcher Dr Arian Wallach will travel to Africa, North America, Israel and India to find out how losing or recovering big predators could impact ecosystems.

Dr Wallach plans to compare her research on dingoes with predators, such as tigers and wolves in India, lions and leopards in Zimbabwe, and killer whales in South African waters.

“There has been little research comparing land and sea predators,” Dr Wallach said. “Killer whales are social predators, just like dingoes are.”

Dr Wallach said these “top-level predators” shared common ecological roles as predators at the top of their food chains with no natural predators of their own.

She said these predators limited population eruptions of their prey, which benefited plant and other small animal communities.

“Where large animals do well, biodiversity does well,” she said.

“Dingoes are experiencing such large population declines, which not only harms them but also the species that depend on their ecological services.

“Without dingoes, small mammal species, such as bilbies, get eaten away by introduced animals.”

She said she wanted to conduct her research in locations where carnivores had been free from poaching or hunting for long periods of time.

“We can’t conduct this research on dingoes because there is no place in Australia where dingo populations have not been controlled by humans for a long time.”

She said she hoped to strike up new collaborations with overseas researchers and gain insight from observing species in various parts of the world.

“It is a globally and nationally important subject,” she said. “It has been very uplifting to get this support from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust.”

The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust was formed with the main objective of honouring Sir Winston Churchill’s memory through the awarding of these Fellowships.