Guest Essay by Kip Hansen
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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