The only Australian mammal species endemic to the Great Barrier Reef has been confirmed to be the first mammal to go extinct due to man-made climate change. Researchers from the University of Queensland and Queensland Government declare the small Bramble Cay melomys extinct in their recently published report.
Bramble Cay melomys were last seen in late 2009. The Australian mammal species lived on a narrow coral cay, which is 150 meters wide and 340 meters long. This is located in the Torres Strait, which lies between Queensland in Australia and the Melanesian Island in Papua New Guinea.
According to Luke Leung of UQ’s School of Agriculture and Food Sciences, they previously feared that the mammals were gone after a failed survey conducted in March 2014. More surveys from August to September in the same year failed to detect the species.
The team also tried to locate the Australian mammal in other Torres Strait or Great Barrier Reef islands but after extensive efforts failed to find at least one Bramble Cay melomys, they concluded that the species is now extinct. This marks the first known mammalian extinction caused by climate change.
The researchers believe that the species were affected by drastic habitat loss. Sea-level rise and stronger and more frequent storms brought by human-caused climate change devastated the mammals’ coral cay, which sits at only three meters above the water level.
Nevertheless, the researchers assert that it may be too soon to declare the species’ extinction on a global scale. There could still be hope for finding an undiscovered population of the Bramble Cay melomys in other places.
“New information is provided in support of a previously presented hypothesis that the Fly River delta of Papua New Guinea is a possible source of the original melomys population on Bramble Cay, so the Bramble Cay melomys or a closely related species might occur there. “
The lead researcher is Ian Gynther, from Queensland’s Department of Environment and Heritage Protection. Other researchers include Luke Leung and Natalie Waller.