The Bramble Cay melomys has seemingly gone extinct from its home in the Great Barrier Reef, marking what scientists consider to be the first mammal to have gone extinct as a result of climate change. The species was last spotted by a fisherman in 2009, and efforts since to trap the rodents have been unsuccessful. The small mammal is named after its home on Bramble Cay, an island barely 10 feet above sea level in the Torres Strait in the Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of Queensland, Australia. The island has been shrinking since 1998, while the amount of land remaining above water during high tide has been reduced by almost 4 acres. This process has been detrimental to the vegetation on the island, eliminating most of the rodent’s habitat.
A team led by Ian Gynther from Queensland’s Department of Environment and Heritage Protection reported on the rodent’s status, adding that the rising water levels were likely to be directly responsible for the extinction, as well as for deaths of individuals of the species. The team laid 150 traps on the island over six days without success, and examined changes to the island’s size and vegetation.
Water levels around the world have risen by 8 inches, or 20 centimeters, between 1901 and 2010, a historically unprecedented rate. Sea levels in the Torres Strait have risen twice as quickly as the global average between 1993 and 2014. The team cautions that this will be the first of many species who will be threatened by such precipitous change in the environment.
Lee Hannah, a senior scientist for climate change biology with Conservation International, has asserted in his work than one in five species will be directly threatened as a result of climate change, in large part by reduced ranges. Hannah points out that humans can still help with some of the worst effects of climate change on other species, by designating protected areas, relocating at-risk species, and by reducing carbon emissions.
One other mammal was said to have been driven extinct by climate change – the Little Swan Island hutia. However, extreme weather played only a part in this extinction, also attributed to the introduction of cats to the island.
The official government website for Queensland has removed its recommendations for recovery actions, melancholically stating that “Because the Bramble Cay melomys is now confirmed to have been lost from Bramble Cay, no recovery actions for this population can be implemented.”