Rodent in Australia is first mammal extinction due to climate change

A rodent that lived on a small island near the Great Barrier Reef is the first documented mammal species to go extinct due to human-induced climate change, an Australian scientist said Wednesday.

Rising sea levels destroyed the vegetation the rodent used for food and shelter. The species, known as Bramble Cay melomys, was only known to be found in Bramble Cay in the Torres Strait region in north-eastern Australia.

"The main reason for the extinction of the rodent is due to high tides and intense storm surges that inundate the island," said Luke Leung, a scientist and co-author of the report on the extinction.

"The assertion that Australia has lost another mammal species can be made with considerable confidence," said the report to the state’s government, which was released last week.

"We have evidence of seawater inundation in the cay that destroyed the vegetation of the island," Leung told dpa.

The long-tailed and whiskered creatures, which had been listed as endangered, were last sighted in 2009, he said.

"They have definitely been there for tens of thousands of years. The island itself is just 300 metres long and 100 metres wide. You can walk around it," said Leung, a senior lecturer at the University of Queensland.

"We have done several trips since 2009 and we set up camera traps. We found none. There were no tracks and no scats. We confirm the absence of any melomys in the island. So we have declared it extinct."

"This is s very unique case and climate change is the most likely cause," he said.

The first sighting of the rodent was recorded in the mid-1800s by European explorers who described them as large rats. Researchers found hundreds of them on the island in the 1970s, Leung said.

"For low-lying islands like Bramble Cay, the destructive effects of extreme water levels resulting from severe meteorological events are compounded by the impacts from anthropogenic climate change-driven sea-level rise," the report said.

The research was conducted in 2014, but the report was released this month because the scientists needed to verify that the extinction was due to climate change caused by humans.

World Wildlife Fund Australia said the melomys’ extinction is a reminder of Australia’s extinction crisis.

"Australia’s species extinction crisis is not something that occurred hundreds of years ago, it’s happening right now. Australia officially has the worst rate of mammal extinction in the world," said Darren Grover in a statement.

"With the coral bleaching disaster, and now the extinction of the Bramble Cay Melomys, the Great Barrier Reef has become the face of climate change," he said.

Last update: Wed, 15/06/2016 - 10:36
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