The Great Barrier Reef, located off the eastern coast of Australia, has perhaps been one of the regions most heavily impacted by climate change. Coral bleaching and ocean acidification, both of which are driven by changing temperatures worldwide, have caused and will continue to cause untold amounts of damage to the most delicate parts of the Reef’s ecosystems, and recently, the Great Barrier Reef has seen another blow; the first known mammal extinct due to climate change.
Bramble Cay melomys (Melomys rubicola), a species of mouse that have for the past few years been listed as endangered in Queensland, Australia, are the only known mammals native to the Great Barrier Reef area. The species has historically only been found on one small island in the reef; said island, composed mostly of coral and sand, is impacted yearly by weather patterns (including the more-frequent powerful storms hitting the area) and sits only 2-3 meters above sea level, which places species endemic to it further in danger. Surveys of the island in the 1970s estimated the population of Bramble Cay melomys to reach several hundred. By the early 2000s, less than 20 were found. Most recently, in 2014, none were found at all.
Researchers first became aware of this issue through the aforementioned survey in 2014, after which they conducted extensive studies into the island in an attempt to locate the animals; however, locals asked have not reported seeing Bramble Cay melomys since 2009. Though lead researchers of the survey claim that it would be “premature” to say that Bramble Cay melomys are globally extinct- there is a possibility that as-of-now unknown populations exist on other nearby islands- the rodents have completely disappeared from their endemic island. Dr. Luke Leung, one of the head researchers, has stated that habitat loss from storms and rising sea level was likely behind the rodent’s disappearance.
Reports on climate change’s impact affecting the Great Barrier Reef usually focus on damage to coral and fish biodiversity, but the probable extinction of Bramble Cay melomys shows how wider spread the effects of climate change are. Coral bleaching and acidification are not the only dangers Barrier Reef species face; those above the water can also be impacted and wiped away from climate change.
- Great Barrier Reef Vulnerability Assessment – Australian Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
Barrier Reef rodent is first mammal declared extinct due to climate change – University of Queensland (June 2016)
- Information on the Bramble Cay melomys: Queensland Government
- Bramble Cay melomys : State of Queensland [CC BY 3.0 au (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/au/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons
Kayla Windelspecht is a student at North Carolina State University where she is majoring in life sciences and biochemistry. Kayla is responsible for assisting with background research for many of our articles in genetics, as well as occasionally preparing some short pieces for the site.