From the Scientific Urban Legend Department: “The little Bramble Cay melomys is likely the first mammal claimed by man-made climate change”

Guest Essay by Kip Hansen

The Claim:

Bramble Cay melomys (mosaic-tailed rat) is the first mammal to go extinct due to human-induced climate change.




“A small rodent that lived only on a single island off Australia is likely the world’s first mammal to be a casualty of climate change…”  National Geographic

“Bramble Cay melomys, a rodent round in body, long in whisker and lumpy in tail. The creatures are probably the first mammal casualty of man-made, or anthropogenic, climate change,… “  The Washington Post

“University of Queensland and Queensland Government researchers have confirmed that the Bramble Cay melomys – the only mammal species endemic to the Great Barrier Reef – is the first mammal to go extinct due to human-induced climate change.”  The University of Queensland News

….and over 80,000  more.

“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. Available information about sea-level rise and the increased frequency and intensity of weather events producing extreme high water levels and damaging storm surges in the Torres Strait region over this period point to human-induced climate change being the root cause of the loss of the Bramble Cay melomys.”   Confirmation of the extinction…

The Bottom Line:

There are no longer any Bramble Cay melomys living on Bramble Cay.  Their extirpation was almost certainly caused by environmental degradation resulting from the very nature of Bramble Cay as a “geologically temporary..[island]..of considerable instability, which may respond dramatically to fluctuations in [its] environment”, with a maximum elevation of 3 meters (~ 10 feet), made of  constantly shifting sand that collects around a small rocky outcrop  surrounded by a shallow reef.  The area of the cay that supports vegetation, the main source of shelter and food for the melomys, has been shrinking since 1998, down to less than 10% of the 1998 area in 2014.

The main contributing factor to this degradation is the success of other species, primarily the Green Turtle and various sea birds,  both of which use the island for nesting (and roosting) which resulted in increasing  disturbance and destruction of the vegetation required by the melomys for survival.

Bramble Cay suffered at least one (Spring 2014)  or more (or a series of) weather events that inundated the island (maybe repeatedly), that possibly would  have  reduced the melomys population below a sustainable level, both directly and through destruction of vegetation, their primary food source, however, it is doubtful that there were in fact any remaining melomys at that late date.  No melomys had been official recorded on Bramble since 2004.

The official cause — climate change – is speculative and partially based on predictions of future sea level rise and future increased storminess and intensity of storms.

It is this author’s opinion that the human contribution to their extinction is limited to the utter inadequacy of the Recovery Plan for the Bramble Cay Melomys, Melomys rubicola prepared by Peter Latch in 2008.

Many readers will be satisfied with this summary, having already seen other posts on this topic.  Those who have a deeper interest – in the facts and processes that produce a misleading government report – are encouraged to read the full essay which contains extensive data and photos, but ONLY if you are extremely interested – if not, you will be bored silly.

The Long Version of this essay in available here in pdf format.

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Author’s Comment Policy:

As always, I will be happy to answer your questions about the demise of the mosaic-tailed rat from Bramble Cay.

As regular readers will realize, I have tried something new — I have made the main essay rather short, and included the long form essay as a pdf in the WUWT server. Please let me know if you prefer this format — I generally don’t write short pieces.

Let’s try not to fight the Climate Wars here in the comments.

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Is that the actual cay pictured in the Twitter post? What are its dimensions? What is the tower in the middle of the island?


This species was only found on Bramble Cay, a small vegetated coral cay (a reef island composed of coral rubble and sand) roughly 340 m long by 150 m wide, but subject to seasonal changes in both shape and size,
Being confined to a single, very small, isolated location, the species was susceptible to a range of threats. It appeared to be inbred, an intrinsic problem that raised doubts about the long term viability of the population.
Certainly, anecdotal reports indicate at least some individuals were killed by domestic dogs that were released onto the island from visiting boats, but also that the species was hunted by indigenous people who visited from PNG on a sporadic basis.
Available evidence indicates that the anthropogenic climate change-induced impacts of sea-level rise, …….
Well, obviously….couldn’t have been anything else

Sandy In Limousin

An acre is a chain (22 yards) by a furlong (220 yards) if that helps, probably not. An Hectare is 10,000 square metres, almost 12,000 square yards


Oh, great … now the seagulls will starve!


Great picture, SC! I don’t mind commenting.
If you give a mouse a cookie…
(Title of a well-known children’s book)
However, If you give a bird a mouse… they seem to think it’s better than a cookie.
(well-known result for anyone who has mice hanging out at their bird feeders waiting for some seeds to fall and birds of prey waiting for mice to show up at the feeders)


I know a man-made sea gull when I see one.

tooright mate… THAT was funny!

I saw these headlines last week, and figured there must be more to the story.
Thanks for this update.


OMG..It’s a rat !….How many rats do humans intentionally kill every day ?


No more Melomy Amore.

David Jay

Is that anything like Muskrat Love?


Let me suggest a different hypothesis, one that is back but just as much evidence as the “Global Warming doctrine”. In the article that I read about this, there was mention of the fact that passing fishermen found the critters to be quite toothsome. Now what infests Asian waters that will eat just about anything contain protein? Chinese factory fishing ships. I propose that one of those found this little speck in the Ocean and tried the rodents as a food item. Maybe they were even better than Sea Cucumbers and word soon spread across the fishing fleet. The cay was raided multiple times and soon there were no critters to be found.
I say that my hypothesis has just as much probability of being right as the one from the Church of the Warmistas. That is the probability is near zero for both hypothesis.


There is no real evidence that CO2 has any effect on climate hence there is no real evidence that Mankind has had any effect on global climate. Little islands have been appearing and disappearing as ice age cycling has been lowering and raising sea levels so extinctions like this are the natural routine. The previous interglacial period was warmer than this one with more ice cap melting and higher sea levels and Mankind had nothing to do with it. A more significant cause of extinctions is loss of habitat due to Mankind’s out of control population..


How would a mamal get there to begin with? Ship wreck survivor? Just sayin, the did not evolve there…..


The = They
Curse you mobile autocorrect 🙁


My guess is drift wood.

Curious George

Wikipedia: It was similar to the Cape York melomys except that it had some protein differences and a coarser tail caused by elevated scales. It was prominent in herdfields and strandline vegetation where it built burrows.
Is that what makes it a species? Are Europeans a species? Are Somalis a species?


Ah, taxonomy. Splitters or cladist clumpers? Do the species parameters match for every species? Are there the same differences between each species in a genus? How many differences are needed to “qualify” as a subspecies? Is there as much difference between the mouse subspecies as there is between bear subspecies or between lizard subspecies? What should be a determining factor: outward appearance, anatomy, behavior, habitat type, habitat location? Ability to interbreed? Is the genetic difference a reason to declare the animal a subspecies, or is it just a population difference?
At a certain point, just going with a really broad clade like “lizard” starts to seem like a good idea.
Sidenote: Cultural practices have actually been suggested as a conservation consideration. Apparently certain dolphin populations exhibit learned behavior that is unique, so the argument is that even if there are other populations of that species, losing a particular population is still significant. Regardless, I doubt this rodent had a lifestyle different to those on other islands.

An interesting list of (the many) Australian indigenous rodent species : .. funny thing is I hear even today kids are being taught dingoes are our only ‘native’ placental mammal. I remember getting caned as a kid for arguing that they weren’t and river rats pre-dated them (this was shortly before my parents were advised to stop me from reading, as it was interfering with my ‘learning process’)
As to the conservation department who’s job it is to protect endangered wildlife, they acknowledge the rats as : ” a small population restricted to one small isolated sand cay it is particularly vulnerable to an extinction event like a major cyclone. These circumstances have led to some doubts being expressed about its long-term survival (1995)”
So they drew up some lovely charts and came up with an action plan with a recovery objective.
The recovery objective in their own words – “The overall objective of this recovery plan is to secure and enhance the status of the Bramble Cay melomys through an integrated program of monitoring, on ground management, searches for other populations and raising public awareness”
translation: The plan to conserve these rats involved the conservation department watching them, they looked for more elsewhere and told people about these rats..
and apparently they felt their job was done. It’s nice to have charts and action plans and procedures and protocols .. and since no one bothered to add ‘captive breeding program’ to this action plan they didn’t feel the need to undertake such a task. (heaven’s sakes.. they’re rats – how hard are they to breed??)

Ivor Ward

Got rid of a rat. What’s bad about that?

Some rats are pest species. This one wasn’t.


How did the rats get there in the first place? I’m assuming from ship wrecks. I wish I knew the source, but I’ve read that rats being highly adaptable to their surroundings, also evolve very quickly.
Based on this, I hope scientists or others don’t get the idea that a common rat could re-evolve to have the same characteristics which made this sub-species unique.

Bill Illis

In 1998, scientists using live traps captured 42 of the estimated 92 individuals.
(Reminds me of the penguin researchers who will killing the penguins with the bands they were putting on their wings).
Change from 2011 to 2013.comment image
I don’t think this was climate change, this was loss of habitat from the sea gulls and careless researchers. From 2013 …

Roy Spencer


texas tea

I was curious if anybody looked into the possibility that when the light tower was built it provided birds of prey with a roost that was not there naturally, thereby enhancing the opportunity for predation that otherwise would not have existed?

sounds reasonable, good pt.

If they captured 42 live in ’98 then it seems kind of odd that some didn’t make it to a zoo or reserve, knowing that they were rare and endangered. There are no other cays or islands where these could be found? And if they came from the New Guinea mainland, then there are none of them there either?
I take it that subspecies means they were not so differentiated that they would be able to progenerate with the species they evolved from. I wonder how many years it took for them to differentiate into a subspecies?

The genus melomys seems to be a collection of rodent “species,” each of which evolved as small populations in limited, vulnerable habitats…
It’s almost as if they were intelligently designed to be endangered… /SARC

…Or… Meolmys are proof that rodents are highly adaptable and can evolve to fill almost any environmental niche… Even temporary niches.


“…[M]ost biologists agree that they would happily breed with Australian and PNG melomys.”

Bruce Cobb

The fact that they went extinct at all was a mite convenient. Sacrificed on the altar of the CAGW religion perhaps?


The island has a maximum elevation of 3 meters. During the Holocene Climate Optimum, sea levels were about 2 meters higher. It would seem that the species was probably not extant on the island during that time as it would have been regularly awash from storms. It is most likely that the species was a recent arrival to the island.


My thought as well. If it is/was a species, it was either the last remnant or not a well established species.


Has the Pope apologized to the late rats yet?

Gerry, England

Jim Steele’s excellent Landscapes and Cycles book has lots of examples like this where the warmist bandwagon is undone by local experts.

Agree it is a terrific book. Every climate skeptic should own and be intimately familiar with a well thumbed copy (or electronically annotated equivalent, my current preference).

Eric Barnes

Who are these conspirators who are killing rats?
Can we just as easily blame the plants for not consuming enough CO2 to prevent this tragedy?
Did they name anyone who is responsible for this?
If not, it’s just an idle conspiracy theory.
Ho Hum, out to the SUV to take a nice long trip into the mountains.
HT Leif Svalgaard.

Jimmy Haigh

It’s OK. We’ll discover another 10 new species today to make up for it.


The reason the scientific community are attributing the extinction to climate change is because the increasing insult to vegetation and increasing erosion are attributed to increasing inundation of Bramble Cay by the ocean.
Most critically, however, the extent of herbaceous vegetation on Bramble Cay decreased dramatically during the 10-year period following 2004, when the species was last captured. The primary cause of this significant decline in habitat was repeated seawater penetration of the island’s interior, which killed or damaged the vegetation. […] Available evidence indicates that the anthropogenic climate change-induced impacts of sea-level rise, coupled with an increased frequency and intensity of weather events that produced damaging storm surges and extreme high water levels, particularly during the last decade, were most likely responsible for the extirpation of the Bramble Cay melomys from Bramble Cay.


A species of rat which “evolved” just 150 years ago on a 12 acre, 10 foot high island, probably didn’t have much long term potential anyways.

Actually for them to have umteen hundred generations enough to differentiate shows quite a lot of potential! Just that the kinetic end of things worked against them, that and isolation, inability to spread to new habitat. Give ’em a few hundred thousand years and they might have developed webbed feet and been a mammal returned to the sea, like whales… only tiny. -just having fun- But I do think they had long term potential.


Biodiversity is important as an intellectual resource, and on an isolated ecosystem as part of that whole ecosystem.
That value isn’t less because the species that have this unique set of genes and proteins that may hold the key to any number of technologies or medicines belong to a species that “probably didn’t have much future”.
Each species loss is permanent and reduces humanity’s scientific potential forever.


I’ll copy a comment I made on another post on this issue as people might find it relevant:
This is life at the edge. A small patch of land appears, and gets quickly colonized by a few species. Through founder effect, genetic drift, and specific conditions they quickly diverge, but their life is precarious. If conditions become slightly worse the population is wiped out, and this is not a loss to the parent species. This is evolution in action, and has nothing to do with us.
On the other hand island endemic species are high risk. Of all the mammal and bird species gone extinct during civilized man watch, the great majority have been island species. And the main cause is invasive species. Despite this being our responsibility, we don’t seem to be too worried about the loss of these species. Perhaps because it is not due to climate change. If we discount these island species that we are losing, the idea of a mass extinction becomes silly.
Since 1500 we have lost 61 mammal species, 3 of them in continents and 58 in islands and Australia. And we have lost 129 bird species, 6 of them in continents and 123 in islands and Australia. Can you spot a pattern?
As a biologist I am concerned that instead of dedicating our efforts to the protection of wild populations and ecosystems all over the planet, as we have been doing in the developed world, we dedicate the money to fight a climate change that it is having surprisingly little effect on the biology and most of it positive.
Climate change has helped more UK species than it has harmed
Agricultural management and climatic change are the major drivers of biodiversity change in the UK
Burns, F. et al., 2016. PLoS ONE 11(3): e0151595
“Climatic change has had a wide range of impacts on species, with more species impacted positively than negatively in the short-term at least.
Climatic change accounted for the second largest percentage of impact, 14 [-6 ; +8], though its impact on species trends was more balanced between positive and negative, and thus was the largest positive impact.”

This was totally predictable. An increase in temperatures produces an increase in energy and water and together with an increase in CO2 produces more productive ecosystems. Some species might respond negatively to the changes, but most species will respond positively.
Anthropogenic effect on species is greatly negative, but not due to climate change.
“As we describe, the net impact of climatic change on UK species in our sample is positive, but it is not clear whether this will always be the case.”
Typical non-scientific bullshit. We find that the impact of climatic change is positive, but since we know it has to be negative, this has to change.


we dedicate the money to fight a climate change that it is having surprisingly little effect on the biology and most of it positive.

What evidence is there that most of the effect of climate change on “biology” is positive?


On land ecosystems a warm planet is more productive than a cold planet. Periods of coal generation were warm periods in the past. With global warming we observe a greening of the Earth at essentially all latitudes and a significant improvement of conditions at high latitudes that manifests in an expansion of the tree line. The evidence is very ample. We know that conditions during glacial periods are much worse, when deserts expand and ice sheets expand, and most species survive in refuges. Warm is good and cold is bad.
As the study that I linked above demonstrated in the UK, a majority of species is reacting positively to global warming. This was to be expected. With growing seasons lengthening, the ecosystem becomes more productive. Plants grow more (we know that biological carbon sink is increasing significantly) and produce more seeds. There is more energy flowing through the ecosystem, more insects, birds produce more progeny and so do mammals as they have less problem to find food. Populations expand.
This is all basic physics and biology, but we have been conditioned to expect only bad things from global warming. The truth is that for 350 years global warming has been having a positive impact. While the benefits are multiple and real, the dangers remain an hypothesis.


On land ecosystems a warm planet is more productive than a cold planet.

Productivity is one metric. Do you put any value on biodiversity?

We know that conditions during glacial periods are much worse, when deserts expand and ice sheets expand, and most species survive in refuges.

On the other hand there is less global biodiversity during warm greenhouse periods:
We found that global biodiversity (the richness of families and genera) is related to temperature and has been relatively low during warm ‘greenhouse’ phases, while during the same phases extinction and origination rates of taxonomic lineages have been relatively high.A long-term association between global temperature and biodiversity, origination and extinction in the fossil record

Warm is good and cold is bad.

And here you’re using productivity as the only metric of good and bad?

As the study that I linked above demonstrated in the UK, a majority of species is reacting positively to global warming.

What is the effect of that on extinctions?
It sounds like they’re seeing invaders from Europe show up as well.

This is all basic physics and biology, but we have been conditioned to expect only bad things from global warming.

What other fields of science have this effect? Or it is just global warming that conditions us to expect bad things?


Let’s put value on biodiversity.
The link between biodiversity and climate has been very well known to biologists since Von Humboldt times in the early 1800’s. It is clear that you are not a biologist (I am), because you don’t know that biodiversity decreases both on land and sea with latitude. It is obvious (should be to you too) that productivity and biodiversity go hand in hand so the warmer tropical areas of the planet are both more productive and have a much higher biodiversity than colder areas. It is often said that tropics are both a museum and a cradle of biodiversity. We ourselves originated in the tropics.
There is no a priori reason why this spatial association between warmer climates and richer ecosystems should not hold true also temporally. However such temporal association between warmer climates of the past and biodiversity is a lot harder to prove due to the inherent difficulties of the fossil record.
So you found an article that defends the opposite, that warm climates reduce biodiversity. Good for you. I suppose you searched not based on a genuine interest in finding the truth, but in finding ammunition to defend your beliefs more probably based on political bias or AGW quasi religious faith than in scientific grounds.
However such a surprising result that contradicts not only basic biology since Von Humboldt, but also common biological sense that any watcher of nature documentaries can develop, should have made you a little suspicious. You could have found that the specialists in the field, like in this review:
Erwin, D. H. (2009). Climate as a driver of evolutionary change. Current Biology, 19(14), R575-R583.
reject those conclusions and affirm:
“Among the wide range of biotic hypotheses, those with the greatest empirical support indicate that warmer climates have provided the energetic foundation for increased biodiversity by fostering greater population size and thus increased extinction resistance; have increased metabolic scope; have allowed more species to exploit specialized niches as a result of greater available energy; and generated faster speciation and/or lower extinction rates. In combination with geologic evidence for carbon dioxide levels and changing areas of tropical seas, these observations provide the basis for a simple, first-order model of the relationship between climate through the Phanerozoic and evolutionary patterns and diversity. Such a model suggests that we should expect greatest marine diversity during globally warm intervals with dispersed continents, broad shelves and moderately extensive continental seas.”
And perhaps you would have saved yourself a little embarrassment by finding that the same authors from the paper you claim that warmer climates reduce biodiversity, published a later paper in which they retract from the previous paper conclusions.
Mayhew, P. J., Bell, M. A., Benton, T. G., & McGowan, A. J. (2012). Biodiversity tracks temperature over time. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(38), 15141-15145.
“The geographic distribution of life on Earth supports a general pattern of increase in biodiversity with increasing temperature. However, some previous analyses of the 540-million-year Phanerozoic fossil record found a contrary relationship, with paleodiversity declining when the planet warms. These contradictory findings are hard to reconcile theoretically. We analyze marine invertebrate biodiversity patterns for the Phanerozoic Eon while controlling for sampling effort. This control appears to reverse the temporal association between temperature and biodiversity, such that taxonomic richness increases, not decreases, with temperature. Increasing temperatures also predict extinction and origination rates, alongside other abiotic and biotic predictor variables. These results undermine previous reports of a negative biodiversity-temperature relationship through time, which we attribute to paleontological sampling biases.”
Oops! Kudos to them for coming forward saying they were wrong. And I wouldn’t expect less from you. Now if it is the case that biologists think that warmer climate means in general increased productivity, biodiversity, ecological niche exploitation, and extinction resilience, why on Earth we are being told the opposite every time through the media to the point that you assumed it was the truth? Is it possible that we are being lied? Would that be a first time?


By the way I prefer the long format. I am not curious enough to click on the link, click the approval on the pdf plug-in and wait for it to load. I rather get the full thing in the page and decide if I read it all or just peruse some parts.

Geoff Sherrington

The lumpers versus splitters problem is also found in plants, a good example being the ornamental and tea-making genus Camellia, whose several hundred species will usually interbreed when brought together to overcome current geographical separations.
Agree with the summary by Gary above on the various uses of “species”.


The lumpers versus splitters problem is also found in paleo anthropology. Some researches will make a species with any new hominin fossil found that is slightly different, so they can associate their name to the new species. Other researchers try hard to prune the hominin tree and keep only a few strong branches. The discussions in the literature are never ending and one needs a guide not to get lost with the different name uses.

The question of how the rat got there reminds me of Tim Flannery’s explanation for the presence of the Peruvian fishing bat in New Zealand as discussed in his book “The Future Eaters”. In that case he proposed the idea that the Peruvian bats flew westwards against the prevailing trade winds to New Zealand.
Small problem. Did they island hop, because no evidence of these bats anywhere else on the Pacific islands?
How did they survive the long journey from Peru to NZ without intermediate resting spots between NZ and Peru?
Did they migrate as married pairs for breeding purposes or do the bats have also alphabet sexes in the society and thus could breed spontaneously once in NZ?


Correct me if wrong, but my impression is that New Zealand and South American bats are related but not the same species.
It appears that they spread to New Zealand while the Gondwanan continents were still closer together tens of millions of years ago. The situation is similar to the related marsupials of South America and Australia, connected via Antarctica, largely ice free before the Oligocene.

Could be but I was simply mentioning Flannery’s explanation which seems as well founded as the official rat extinction explanation.


My view is that, even with an allegedly different protein, I doubt that any unique genetic information has disappeared from our planet with the demise with a local rat race.


Rob McCulloch wrote a brilliant comment in the Washington post. good on you Rob.
The BS gets even more absurd! Endemic species! Coast of Queensland! Great Barrier Reef! Anthropogenic climate change! These Alarmist’s will stop at nothing to tug on the heart strings of poor gullible people all around the world to prop up their frail crumbling agenda.
Bramble Cay is over 170klm due north of the designated Great Barrier Reef border.
It is actually in Papua New Guineas International Fishing Zone and only in around 30mts of water.
But get this! It’s only 27klm from the enormous shallow river delta of Papua New Guinea’s Fly River.
The Fly at 1,050 kilometers (650 mi), is the second longest river in Papua New Guinea, after the Sepik. The Fly is the largest river in Oceania, the largest in the world without a single dam in its catchment and overall ranks as the 25th-largest river in the world by volume of discharge.
The delta of the Fly River is over 100 km wide at its entrance but don’t trust me, check it out on Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia just like this next paragraph.
“However, writing in Australian Geographic, Lauren Smith noted, “The authors of the report do note that there is a slight chance that there’s an as-yet-unknown population of the species in Papua New Guinea around the Fly River delta area, and that until that area is adequately surveyed, the Bramble Cay Melomys should have the tag ‘Possibly Extinct’ added to the IUCN Red listing.”
It is painfully obvious to any layman that these rats along with snakes and many other animals will get washed down from this wild river riding on all kinds of debris during the wet seasons. Even one stranded python could wipe out a whole marooned colony on an island this small in no time at all! What kind of silly science is this? WAKE UP!

Jeff Alberts

Apparently it is unacceptable for any species to ever be lost for any reason, ever. What a silly concept.

comment image?w=768

David M. Lallatin

“The alarm bells are ringing,” Obama told the assembly, which included heads of state from more than 120 countries. “We cannot pretend we do not hear them.”


From a different Government department some sensible comments..
If the species has become extinct it is a highly undesirable outcome. However this species is also a case study in how the role of natural and largely unpreventable processes, and the high cost of undertaking any recovery actions in such an isolated location, are important considerations when weighing up how and where conservation actions are directed (DEHP 2013e).

Yeah? Well who cares? About 200 hundred species go extinct per day. No one seems to be paying attention to how many new species come into existence every day. Why is that?

Could you list ten species going extinct last year? Name, place, and how we know they are extinct? With references of course.
I am very suspicious of claims about so many species per year, month, or day going extinct.
In fact, as this discussion has shown, we are not all in agreement about what constitutes a species.


Could you list ten species going extinct last year?

1) It takes longer than a year to be declared extinct.
The World Conservation Union used to have a rule that a species had to be not observed for 50 years. Now they will label a species extinct if “there is no reasonable doubt that the last individual has died.”
In any case there’s no knowing which year they went extinct.
2) The vast majority or species are not described.
All those eukaryotes you see and recognise? They’re only the wildly successful ones. The average range for a species is about 50 miles.

This won’t answer your question…

Global Extinction Rates: Why
Do Estimates Vary So Wildly?

Is it 150 species a day or 24 a day or far less than that? Prominent scientists cite dramatically different numbers when estimating the rate at which species are going extinct. Why is that?
by Fred Pearce
Most ecologists believe that we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction. Humanity’s impact on nature, they say, is now comparable to the five previous catastrophic events over the past 600 million years, during which up to 95 percent of the planet’s species disappeared. We may very well be. But recent studies have cited extinction rates that are extremely fuzzy and vary wildly.
The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, which involved more than a thousand experts, estimated an extinction rate that was later calculated at up to 8,700 species a year, or 24 a day. More recently, scientists at the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity concluded that: “Every day, up to 150 species are lost.” That could be as much as 10 percent a decade.
But nobody knows whether such estimates are anywhere close to reality. They are based on computer modeling, and documented losses are tiny by comparison. Only about 800 extinctions have been documented in the past 400 years, according to data held by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Out of some 1.9 million recorded current or recent species on the planet, that represents less than a tenth of one percent.
Nor is there much documented evidence of accelerating loss. In its latest update, released in June, the IUCN reported “no new extinctions,” although last year it reported the loss of an earwig on the island of St. Helena and a Malaysian snail. And some species once thought extinct have turned out to be still around, like the Guadalupe fur seal, which “died out” a century ago, but now numbers over 20,000.
Moreover, the majority of documented extinctions have been on small islands, where species with small gene pools have usually succumbed to human hunters. That may be an ecological tragedy for the islands concerned, but most species live in continental areas and, ecologists agree, are unlikely to prove so vulnerable.

We lose 8,700 species per year while, on the other hand, we gain about 15,000 species per year…

Luckily, even after 250 years of professionals documenting thousands of new plants and animals every year, the rate at which new species are discovered remains relatively stable. Somewhere between 15,000 and 18,000 new species are identified each year, with about half of those being insects. However, that number is somewhat misleading: it also includes the correction of taxonomic mistakes, movements from one family to another, and decisions that will end up being overruled in years to come.

The problem is two-fold:
1. The word “species” lacks a rigorous definition.
2. Extinctions in the fossil record are generally measured at the genus, or higher, taxonomic level.
This enables pseudo-scientists (ecologists) to babble that “that we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction.” When was the last time a genus went extinct? 75 years ago (if the hirola are still kicking). How often do genera go extinct? Not very often. How many genera are endangered?

You’re looking at three of the last known hirola on Earth. Since the 1970s, unregulated hunting, habitat destruction and drought linked to climate change have driven the number of these large African antelopes living in Kenya and Somalia from over 14,000 to fewer than 400.
But these hirola are not only among the last of their species, they’re among the last of an entire genus — the taxonomic rank above species and below family. (As a point of reference, if the genus Canis were to go extinct, it would mean the disappearance of the planet’s dogs, wolves, coyotes, jackals, and numerous other species.)
If the critically endangered hirola cannot be saved, it will be the first time the Earth has lost an entire genus of mammal in three-quarters of a century. (The death of the last known Tasmanian tiger in 1936 spelled not only the end of the genus Thylacinus, but the family Thylacinidae, as well.)

Even if the hirola snuff it, the world will still have lots of antelopes.


They may not even be extinct, and it may not be due to ‘climate change’.
I dug this up from the actual published paper, within about 10 minutes of reading:
Apparently domestic dogs eat them, which are brought to the island periodically. From the report.
“Direct mortality of Bramble Cay melomys individuals due to predation by domestic dogs brought
ashore from fishing vessels (A. Moller-Nielsen pers. comm.) and hunting by visiting indigenous
people from Papua New Guinea (A. Ketchell pers. comm.) would have contributed to pressures on
this isolated rodent population”.
You think?
It may not even be extinct. It might occur on other places, including the PNG mainland.
“the possibility that the species occurs elsewhere on islands in the Torres Strait deserves serious
“Together, these observations and associated evidence suggest a New Guinean origin of the Bramble
Cay melomys is not only plausible but perhaps the more likely of the two hypotheses.”
Did they look properly on PNG.? Apparently not.
“However, a possibility exists that the Bramble Cay melomys occurs in the Fly River delta area of
southern New Guinea and so, until this area is adequately surveyed, it may be premature to formally
declare the species extinct.”
This kind of sloppy journalism wouldn’t past muster in any other field except within environmentalism, for reasons that are obscure to me.


Physically and genetically the nearest relative to the late Bramble Cay melomys is the Cape York melomys. The genetic differences were negligible: “… it had some protein differences and a coarser tail caused by elevated scales.” I could find no reference on any effort to cross-breed the two ‘species’. The loss of ‘genetic diversity’ seems trivial. The Bramble Cay melomys was likely isolated from the Cape York melomys population by rising seas at the end of the last Ice Age.
The Cape York melomys is identified on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as ‘least concern,’ meaning it is quite abundant. It would seem only the geographical isolation justified identifying it as a separate species. In humans the differences between any two ‘races’ are far greater, yet we are still all one species.

Here’s the one image of the cay I find linked by it on Google Earth :

Mark Lee

Who cares?

Alan Robertson

The moving finger wrote down
This saddish thing to wit
You’ll never taste a Dodo
Wot’s roasted on a spit

I wouldn’t be surprised if it is an undescribed species from PNG, as suggested above by “thingodonta”. Bramble Cay is much closer to PNG than the Australian mainland. and possibly arrived by flotsam down the Fly River.


The most interesting question is: why did the Bramble Cay Melomys only exist on Bramble Cay? Until about 10,000 years ago Australia and New Guinea was a single landmass and Bramble Cay was just a nondescript spot on the Carpentarian plain. The species certainly didn’t evolve on Bramble Cay, speciation isn’t that fast. So presumably the species once had a wider distribution (unless it is a case of taxonomic oversplitting, and the population on Bramble Cay really belonged in another species, like capensis or cervinipes.
There are a number of somewhat similar cases where small mammals have gone extinct on the Australian mainland, but still exist on offshore islands, and the explanation is well known: introduced predators (cats, rats, dogs, foxes…).
However the nearest mainland in this case is New Guinea, which has suffered much less from introduced predators, so personally I am far from convinced that Melomys rubicola is really extinct. It may well still exist somewhere in the Trans-Fly which is a huge area of dry eucalypt woodland, which is not at all well explored biologically. The Fly River Delta that is mentioned is rather less likely since it is hardly suitable Melomys habitat.
On average more than one new species of mammal is discovered per year in New Guinea, most considerably larger than Melomys