Rising sea levels reduced the habitat of Australia's mosaic-tailed rat by 97%
A tiny rodent the lived alone on one of Australia’s small islands is believed to be the first mammal on Earth to have gone extinct because of climate change, a report from scientists suggests.
Melomys rubicola, better known as the Bramble Cay melomys, has entirely disappeared from its home on an island in the eastern Torres Strait of the Great Barrier Reef. Last seen by a mackerel fisherman in 2009, a number of failed attempts to capture some of the rodents, also known as mosaic-tailed rats, were finally abandoned in 2014, leading zoologists to believe the species has been entirely wiped out.
The Bramble Cay melomys took their name from Bramble Cay, a tiny island of only 0.04 km2 between Australia and Papua New Guinea, three metres above sea level.
European settlers first saw the rats on the island in 1845, with several hundred of the species recorded in 1978. But in the 40 years since, the part of the island that sits above high tide shrank from 9.8 acres to 6.2 acres. Coupled with the loss of vegetation, the habitat on Bramble Cay available to the melomys reduced by 97%.
"The key factor responsible for the extirpation of this population 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," writes Ian Gynther from Queensland’s Department of Environment and Heritage Protection.
“For low-lying islands like Bramble Cay, the destructive effects of extreme water levels resulting from severe meteorological events are compounded by the impacts from anthropogenic climate change-driven sea-level rise,” he added.
The small mammal is now considered the first victim of climate change, with scientists warning that five more species are now in danger of extinction.