As seen in satellite images, the dingo fence has altered the desert ecosystem


Australia’s dingo fence was built in 1948 to scare away dingoes preying on farmer’s sheep. This fence is about 5600 kilometers long and extends across three states, New South Wales, Queensland, and South Australia. A part of the fence passes through the Strzelecki Desert, known for the red sand dunes. From the images captured by NASA satellites from space, it is evident that this fence has influenced the current desert ecosystem, including kangaroos, wild dogs, and vegetation. Individual states cannot see much change to their environment, but aerial images from outer space have shown predatory animals’ effect on desert vegetation.

The fence keeps away the dingoes leaving the kangaroos to flourish and multiply. The increased kangaroo population overgrazes on the desert vegetation leaving the land almost bare. This has contributed to soil erosion and more sand dunes. Despite the alienating fence being there, some dingoes still find their way to the livestock sheds. The predators bring significant losses to farmers, who have formulated ways to kill them through poison baits, traps, and guns.

The removal of predators in a food chain has been shown to drive the composition of an ecosystem. For instance, in the US, they eradicated the wolves’ population in the Yellowstone National Park because they endangered the elk population. This led to an increase in elks which grazed on almost all shrubs and trees. When ecological balance goes unchecked and predators are more than the prey, the latter risks extinction. Similarly, if the predators are entirely removed, the prey will overgraze on the vegetation. This will lead to soil erosion and the destruction of habitats for small animals such as rats and mice.

Research has shown that an increase in dingoes outside the fence keeps the cat and fox community in check. On the other hand, reducing the dingo population on the outside allows overpopulation of vegetation eaters, which leaves the land bare. Less vegetation alters wind flow and sand movement. On the ground level, changes can go unnoticed. Satellite images, however, clearly show the variations. Researchers converted images by the Joint Remote Sensing Research Program to fractional covers divided into bare soil, green vegetation, and dead vegetation landscapes.

For the desert images, the dead vegetation landscape showed the outline of the dingo fence clearly. The images indicated that where dingoes are scarce, kangaroos overgrazed on vegetation, leaving the desert soils bare. Researchers conducted ground studies that resonated with the space findings to support the aerial images taken from space. The bottom line of this study showed that conservationists, farmers, and landowners should find a way to balance the population of dingoes to reinstate the ecosystem while not hurting livestock.

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