First Mammal Extinction due to Climate Change

Climate change has caused the world’s first mammal to go extinct. Melomys rubicola, commonly known as Bramble Cay melomys, a small rodent that lived on a small island in the eastern Torres Strait of Australia, has completely disappeared from its habitat. The Melomys had more isolated and limited habitat than any other mammal in Australia, and it was identified to be the only endemic mammal to the Great Barrier Reef. One expert supposed this extinction is just the beginning: studies have shown one in six of world’s species may go extinction if we do nothing to combat climate change.

Bramble Cay, a small coral cay which is only around 8.9 acres and located to the north of Australia, is the only known home to this small rodent. The highest point on this Cay is 10 feet above sea level.

The first discovery of Bramble Cay melomys can be traced back to 1845 by Europeans. It was discovered in a high population on the isle. At that time, sailors reported they shot “large rats” with bows and arrows. However, in 1978 it was reported only a few hundred melomys still lived on the isle. The last encounter of this species was in 2009, and after extensive searches for this species, a report changed its status from “endangered” to “extinct”. Those searches were conducted by Queensland’s Department of Environment and Heritage Protection in partnership with the University of Queensland, by involving 150 traps on the isle for six nights.

The authors of the report concluded that the sea level rise introduced by climate change is the root cause of this extinction. As a consequence, the island was submerged on multiple places, which killed the mammal while destroying its habitat. The report estimated the area of the cay above high tide decreased from 10 acres in 1998 to 6 acres in 2014. In addition, most of its habitat has disappeared in past decades, together with a 97% degradation vegetation on the isle.

As a result, the government of Queensland recommended that no recovery action should be taken. “Because the Bramble Cay melomys is now confirmed to have been lost from Bramble Cay, no recovery actions for this population can be implemented.”