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First mam­mal species goes Extinct due to cli­mate change

pub­lished 24 June 2016 | mod­i­fied 24 June 2016

Grassland melomysUni­ver­sity of Queens­land and Queens­land Gov­ern­ment researchers have con­firmed that the Bram­ble Cay melomys – the only mam­mal species endemic to the Great Bar­rier Reef – is the first mam­mal to go extinct due to human-​induced cli­mate change.

In a newly pub­lished report, the sci­en­tists con­ducted a com­pre­hen­sive sur­vey in 2014 but failed to find any trace of the rodent.

The Bram­ble Cay melomys (Melomys rubi­cola) is a rodent that was known only to live on a small (4 ha) coral cay, just 340m long and 150m wide in the Tor­res Strait, between Queens­land in Aus­tralia and Papua New Guinea.

Because a lim­ited sur­vey in March 2014 failed to detect the species, Bram­ble Cay was revis­ited from August to Sep­tem­ber 2014, with the explicit aims of estab­lish­ing whether the Bram­ble Cay melomys still per­sisted on the island and to enact emer­gency mea­sures to con­serve any remain­ing indi­vid­u­als,” said Dr Luke Leung of the Uni­ver­sity of Queensland.

Sig­nif­i­cantly, this prob­a­bly rep­re­sents the first recorded mam­malian extinc­tion due to anthro­pogenic cli­mate change.
Dr Luke Leung, School of Agri­cul­ture and Food Sci­ences, Uni­ver­sity of Queens­land, Australia »

A thor­ough sur­vey effort involv­ing 900 small ani­mal trap-​nights, 60 cam­era trap-​nights and two hours of active day­time searches pro­duced no records of the species, con­firm­ing that the only known pop­u­la­tion of this rodent is now extinct.”

Anec­do­tal infor­ma­tion obtained from a pro­fes­sional fish­er­man who vis­ited Bram­ble Cay annu­ally for the past 10 years sug­gested that the last known sight­ing of the Bram­ble Cay melomys was made in late 2009.”

Dr Leung said the key fac­tor respon­si­ble for the destruc­tion of this pop­u­la­tion was almost cer­tainly ocean inun­da­tion of the low-​lying cay, very likely on mul­ti­ple occa­sions, dur­ing the past decade, caus­ing dra­matic habi­tat loss and per­haps also direct mor­tal­ity of indi­vid­u­als. The cay sits at most 3m above sea level.

Avail­able infor­ma­tion about sea-​level rise and the increased fre­quency and inten­sity of weather events pro­duc­ing extreme high water lev­els and dam­ag­ing storm surges in the Tor­res Strait region over this period point to human-​induced cli­mate change being the root cause of the loss of the Bram­ble Cay melomys,” he said.

Bramble Cay in 2014Bram­ble Cay in 2014.
Image Natalie Waller.

Dr Leung said the fact that exhaus­tive efforts had failed to record the rodent at its only known loca­tion and exten­sive sur­veys had not found it on any other Tor­res Strait or Great Bar­rier Reef island gave him con­fi­dence in the asser­tion that Aus­tralia had lost another mam­mal species.

Sig­nif­i­cantly, this prob­a­bly rep­re­sents the first recorded mam­malian extinc­tion due to anthro­pogenic cli­mate change.”

How­ever, new infor­ma­tion is pro­vided in sup­port of a pre­vi­ously pre­sented hypoth­e­sis that the Fly River delta of Papua New Guinea is a pos­si­ble source of the orig­i­nal melomys pop­u­la­tion on Bram­ble Cay, so the Bram­ble Cay melomys or a closely related species might occur there.” There­fore Dr Leung said it could be pre­ma­ture to declare the Bram­ble Cay melomys extinct on a global scale.

Read more about cli­mate change and extinc­tion here.

(Source: Uni­ver­sity of Queens­land News, 14.06.2016; Nature News, 21.06.2016)

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