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28 March 2017 The Bramble Cay melomys Melomys rubicola (Rodentia: Muridae): a first mammalian extinction caused by human-induced climate change?
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Abstract

Aims . Sea-level rise is one of the most certain consequences of global warming and is predicted to exert significant adverse effects on wildlife in coastal habitats worldwide. Terrestrial fauna inhabiting low-lying islands are likely to suffer the greatest loss to habitat from sea-level rise and other oceanographic impacts stemming from anthropogenic climate change. Bramble Cay (Maizab Kaur), an ∼4 ha, low elevation sand cay located in Torres Strait, Australia, supports the only known population of the endangered Bramble Cay melomys Melomys rubicola Thomas, 1924. As a result of a decline in this population noted during previous monitoring to 2004, habitat loss due to erosion of the cay and direct mortality from storm surges were implicated as major threats to this species. This study aimed to confirm the current conservation status of the species, to seek information about the key factor or factors responsible for the population decline and to recover any remaining individuals for a captive insurance population.

Methods . During three survey periods (December 2011, March 2014 and August–September 2014), a total of 1170 small mammal trap-nights, 60 camera trap-nights, 5 h of nocturnal searches and 5 h of diurnal searches were undertaken on Bramble Cay.

Key results . All three survey periods failed to detect any Bramble Cay melomys. The island had experienced a recent, severe reduction in vegetation, which is the primary food resource for the Bramble Cay melomys. Herbaceous cover on the cay decreased from 2.16 ha in 2004 to 0.065 ha in March 2014 before recovering somewhat to 0.19 ha in August–September 2014.

Conclusions . These results demonstrate that this rodent species has now been extirpated on Bramble Cay. The vegetation decline was probably due to ocean inundation resulting from an increased frequency and intensity of weather events producing extreme high water levels and storm surges, in turn caused by anthropogenic climate change.

Implications . The loss of the Bramble Cay melomys from Bramble Cay probably represents the first documented mammalian extinction due to human-induced climate change. This event highlights the immediate need to mitigate predicted impacts of sea-level rise and ocean inundation on other vulnerable species occurring on low lying islands and in susceptible coastal zones through captive breeding and reintroduction or other targeted measures.

© CSIRO 2017
Natalie L. Waller, Ian C. Gynther, Alastair B. Freeman, Tyrone H. Lavery, and Luke K.-P. Leung "The Bramble Cay melomys Melomys rubicola (Rodentia: Muridae): a first mammalian extinction caused by human-induced climate change?," Wildlife Research 44(1), (28 March 2017). https://doi.org/10.1071/WR16157
Received: 22 August 2016; Accepted: 1 November 2016; Published: 28 March 2017
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