Lack of human intervention results in mammal’s climate change extinction

20 Apr 2017

MelomyUniversity of Queensland researchers say we have not heard the last of the Bramble Cay Melomys, an enigmatic rodent which has become famous for all the wrong reasons.

Last year UQ and Queensland Government researchers confirmed in a Government report that the Melomys – the only mammal species endemic to the Great Barrier Reef - was the first mammal to go extinct due to oceanic inundation linked to human-induced climate change.

The Bramble Cay Melomys was once found in a tiny vegetated cay in the north-east Torres Strait, about 60km from the Fly River in New Guinea.

Last year’s study was led by Ian Gynther from Queensland’s Department of Environment and Heritage Protection and in partnership with UQ researchers Natalie Waller and Dr Luke Leung of UQ’s School of Agriculture and Food Sciences.

Birds flying and stand in fieldWith UQ and Government colleagues, these researchers have also recently published their scientific findings in Wildlife Research.

Now another University of Queensland researcher has revealed the factors contributing to the mammal’s extinction.

In a new editorial in Pacific Conservation Biology, forum editor, University of Queensland PhD student in the School of Biological Sciences and adjunct at Murdoch University Graham Fulton has suggested that human inaction on research and conservation played a role in this climate change extinction, and sadly, further extinctions would happen.

Mr Fulton said that this previously poorly-known mammal would become a celebrity much like the dodo.

He suggests that positive human intervention came too late because of the perception that this was a rat, which, unlike the giant panda or koala, failed to engender empathetic feelings.

“From the economic rationalist position, flagship species like the giant panda and koala are exempt from an economic model of ‘survival of the cheapest’, because their extinction would draw too much negative press,” he said.

“Herein lies the irony: the Bramble Cay Melomys was allowed to become extinct because it was not a flagship species, yet, as the first known mammalian extinction due to human-induced climate change, it has become a flagship species.”

Last year Mr Fulton also published a paper on four specimens that he re-discovered in the Macleay Museum, University of Sydney, which can be used to do genetic work on the Bramble Cay Melomys.

He said this work would determine if it is an old endemic species to Australia and not related to an undiscovered species from New Guinea.

Media: Mr Graham Fulton, or Dr Luke Leung, +61 7 54601264.