Australian rodent marks first climate change extinction, scientists say


An Australian rodent that lived near the Great Barrier Reef has been officially declared extinct, making it the first known mammal killed off by climate change, according to researchers.

The Bramble Cay melomys, a rat-like rodent known to live on a small northern island at the edge of the Torres Strait Islands in Queensland, was relocated from the government’s “endangered” list to its “extinct” list, the Australian Department of the Environment and Energy announced Monday.

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Researchers, in a 2016 report released on the critter, said they confirmed that melomys on Bramble Cay were extinct after a “survey in March 2014 failed to detect the species.” Fishermen who visited the area suggested to scientists that the last known sighting of the animal was in late 2009.

The main factor responsible in the mammal’s extinction, “was almost certainly ocean inundation of the low-lying cay, very likely on multiple occasions, during the last decade, causing dramatic habitat loss and perhaps also direct mortality of individuals,” researchers said.

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The “fastest rates of sea level rise” in Australia and near the Great Barrier Reef are in the north, where Bramble Cay is located, according to the government’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Officials said that because land around the reef is low-lying, “small changes in sea level will mean greater erosion and land inundation.”

The Torres Strait region where Bramble Cay is located has seen “extreme high water levels and damaging storm surges,” the 2016 report stated. These weather events are the “root cause” of the extinction of the Bramble Cay melomys, which “point[s] to human-induced climate change,” scientists said.



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