May 31, 2020

This Australian rodent is the first mammal extinct due to climate change


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By Susan Bird Frpm Care2

A moment of silence, if you please, for the poor little mosaic-tailed rat. She’s become the first mammal officially killed off by climate change.

The Australian government formally announced the extinction on February 18, 2019. In truth, scientists believe the rat — also known as the melomys — has actually been extinct since at least 2016.

Last seen by a fisherman in 2009, the mosaic-tailed rat lived on only one island: Bramble Cay, off the coast of Australia near Papua New Guinea. This rat was considered ecologically unique in that it was the Great Barrier Reef’s only endemic mammal species, according to researchers  from the University of Queensland, Australia.

Researchers obtained firsthand eyewitness accounts from fishermen of the gradually worsening conditions at Bramble Cay that likely contributed to the mosaic-tailed rat’s demise:

Mr Moller-Nielsen described how the sea breaks over the south-eastern end of Bramble Cay during high tides of 3.5–4 m, and recalled that this happened in the late 1980s or early 1990s, resulting in water lying in the middle of the cay. He said that in the last ten years “there had been big tides and it’s been a bit rough” during the annual mackerel season… also reflected that the weather had worsened over the previous decade, in particular “getting rougher and rougher over the last four or five years”. He recalled that in former times “there would be strong winds for a few days, but then it would ease off, becoming calm for periods, but this doesn’t seem to happen recently.” Instead, he said there were “big seas and 30 knot winds lasting for longer periods of ten days to three weeks” and now “they practically live in wet weather gear.”

In a single decade, Bramble Cay lost 97 percent of its herbaceous vegetation — a source of both food and shelter for the rat. The island also suffered persistent erosion. The cause? Rising water.

Certainly, a delicate little rodent will not survive constant inundation. Sea level rise prevented the rats from gaining a safe and secure foothold on an eroding island, ultimately killing them off.

The University of Queensland research team explains:

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 region over this period point to human-induced climate change being the root cause of the loss of the Bramble Cay melomys.

Scientists believe it’s likely that the number of Bramble Cay melomys began to decline in the 1970s. The species eventually disappeared from the island at some point between late 2009 and December 2011 — “an event that represented the extinction of the only known population,” as researchers noted in 2016.

What’s odd is the Australian government’s failure to take more aggressive action when it became clear years ago that the mosaic-tailed rat was in trouble.

Equally disappointing was the way that officials announced this historic climate change-caused extinction. The news ended up tucked away as a change in status on a chart containing updates about many species — and the announcement said exactly nothing about climate change.

“We have consistently called on [Prime Minister] Scott Morrison and Melissa Price to show leadership on climate change, instead of burying their heads in the sand,” Queensland Environmental Minister Leeanne Enoch said when the report acknowledging the rat’s extinction came out. “How many more species do we have to lose for the federal government to take action?”


This extinction event should be a wake-up call. leaders to do a better job responding to climate change threats to endangered species by signing this Care2 petition.

We can’t lose another species. They’re irreplaceable. Now we’ve lost the first mammal because humankind can’t bring itself to control the damage of climate change.

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