SCIENCE

Extinct Australian Rodent First Victim Of Climate Change

  • Mary Nichols , Design & Trend Contributor
  • Jun, 15, 2016, 11:30 PM
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Climate Change
(Photo : Getty Image/Marty Melville) A new study suggests that the effects of man made climate change have led to the extinction of a tiny Australian mammal.

A new report suggests that the effects of man-made climate change may have claimed its first victim.

A small Australian rodent known as the Bramble Cay melomys (Melomys rubicola), a creature endemic to the Great Barrier Reef, may have succumbed to the effects of man-made climate change, writes Tech Times.


 

Scientists conducted extensive searches of the only known habitat of the rodent - an island located off the coast of the eastern Torres Strait. However, their efforts proved unsuccessful and they were unable to locate any of the rodents.

The last known sighting of the rodent, also called the mosaic-tailed rat, occurred in 2009 and was made by a fisherman local to the area.

Scientists led an expedition to the island in 2014, in an effort to trap the rodent - however, the failed venture led scientists to believe that the rodents may have become extinct.

Their habitat on Bramble Cay is situated just 10 feet (3 meters) above sea level. The first known sighting of the rodents on the island came in 1845 when Europeans first encountered the island. By 1978, the melomys population was flourishing - reaching several hundred in number.

In 2014, researchers laid 150 traps on Bramble Cay for the duration of six nights. They also measured the length of the island and took note of its vegetation cover.

They found that in the years between 1998 and the study in 2014, the island lost a large percentage of its vegetation cover - shrinking from 4 hectares (9.8 acres) to 2.5 hectares (6.2 acres).

During this period, the rodents lost 97 percent of their home.

The researchers suggest that the leading factor in the rodents' extinction was rising sea levels. Rising sea levels over the past decade washed over the island, destroying the habitat as well as decimating the entire population on the island.

Since the 20th century began, global sea levels have risen by almost 20 centimeters (8 inches).

Sea levels in the Torres Strait region rose at rates double that of the global average between 1993 and 2014, according to researchers. 

The authors caution that the Bramble Cay melomys will likely be part of a long list of species threatened with extinction as the climate continues to warm.

"We knew something had to be first," senior scientist Lee Hannah from Conservation International told National Geographic. "But this is still stunning news."

The Queensland government stated that it was now too late to attempt a species recovery for the small rodents.

"No recovery actions for this population can be implemented," the government wrote on its website.

However, Ian Gynther from Queensland's Department of Environment and Heritage Protection and his colleagues suggested that another population of the rodents could be located in Papua New Guinea.

"At this stage, it may be premature to declare the Bramble Cay melomys extinct on a global scale," the authors stated in the study.

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