1 Tahrcountry Musings: First recorded extinction of a mammal in the world thought to due to human-induced climate change.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

First recorded extinction of a mammal in the world thought to due to human-induced climate change.

Research led by Ian Gynther from Queensland’s Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, in partnership with the University of Queensland has come to the conclusion that human-caused climate change appears to have driven Australia’s Great Barrier Reef’s only endemic mammal species Bramble Cay Melomys (Melomys rubicola) in to oblivion.  Bramble Cay melomys is only found on Bramble Cay, a small (4-6 ha) vegetated coral cay in the far northeast of the Torres Strait. Bramble Cay is a small vegetated sand cay surrounded by a relatively small coral reef and is comparatively isolated from other reefs in the Torres Strait. Bramble Cay melomys is a nocturnal rodent that shelters mostly in burrows and under logs and debris. There is no published information of life history of this species. It had the most isolated and restricted range of any Australian mammal.
The survey team laid 150 traps on the island for six nights. They could not find a single individual. The researchers concluded the “root cause” of the extinction was sea-level rise. As a result of rising seas, the island was inundated on multiple occasions, killing the animals and also destroying their habitat. 97% of the habitat was lost in just 10 years. Vegetation cover declined from 2.2ha in 2004 to just 0.065ha in 2014. Natural causes were compounded by the impacts from anthropogenic climate change-driven sea-level rise. Around the Torres Strait, sea level appears to have risen at almost twice the global average rate between 1993 and 2014. The researchers say melomys was driven to extinction due “solely (or primarily) to anthropogenic climate change”.

Citation: Department of the Environment (2016). Melomys rubicola in Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment, Canberra. 

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