Climate Change Claims First Mammal Extinction, Study Says

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By Ben Remaly

June 15 — Australian researchers say human-induced climate change has caused the first recorded extinction of a mammal after they failed to find the rodent on the minute Great Barrier Reef island it called home.

The rodent, known as the Bramble Cay melomys, was believed to be exclusive to Bramble Cay, an inlet about 10 acres in size that is part of the Torres Strait between Australia and Papua New Guinea.

Researchers from the University of Queensland and Queensland's government said in a report that sea-level rise caused by climate change destroyed the habitat on the island and possibly drowned the melomys.

“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,” said one of the report's authors, Luke Leung of the University of Queensland, June 14.

The scientists completed the survey from August to September 2014. The first reported discovery of the Bramble Cay melomys dates back to 1845, when European explorers spotted an abundance of “large rats” on the island that they shot with bow and arrow for recreation.

Decreasing estimates of the population were taken in 1978, 1998, 2002 and 2004 before a 2014 survey didn't spot a single melomy. A local fisherman who visited the island annually said he hadn't seen the rodent since 2009.

There may be hope for the Bramble Cay melomys. The report says there may be populations of the original melomys on the Fly River delta of Papua New Guinea, but the rodent had only been seen on Bramble Cay.

Fund to Protect Reef

On June 12, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced a $736 million fund to protect the Great Barrier Reef from warming waters and fertilizer run-off.

“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,” World Wildlife Fund Australia spokesman Darren Grover said in a statement June 14.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ben Remaly in Washington at bremaly@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com