Is This The World's First Global Warming Induced Mammal Extinction?

Mary River Turtle White Possum photo

Australia has what’s been termed the highest rate of mammals facing extinction of any country in the developed world. Twenty two percent are threatened. And news just in suggests that another one might have already checked out. The rare white lemuroid possum (pictured right) hasn’t been sighted for the past three years. Scientists are concerned it might have the ignominious distinction of being the world’s first mammal sent to extinction by global warming.

And it’s not only mammals that are under threat. The Mary River Turtle (left picture) is also having a tough time of it. But more on them later. Back to the White Possum.This cute bundle of fur, only found above 1000m (3280 ft) in the mountains of the Daintree rainforest of far north Queensland, where the cool cloud forests help maintain their body temperature. Apparently they struggle to survive when temperatures rise above 30°C for four or five hours. Scientists fear that record high temperatures in the 2005 summer may have decimated the population.

In a report in the Courier-Mail Professor Steve Williams from James Cook University says "Prior to 2005 we were seeing a lemuroid every 45 minutes of spotlighting at one main site at Mt Lewis," But he goes on to note that “in three years, in more than 20 hours of intensive spotlighting, none has been sighted." A major research project will be undertaken in 2009 to see if the shy guys can be spotted, but already they are being tagged the ‘Dodo of the Daintree.’

Slightly more positive news welcomes our second furry topped friend.

The Mary River Turtle, who is only found in one river in Queensland was only identified as a new genus and species in 1994, but was quickly listed as endangered. Partly because its few known nesting sites were being plundered for hatchling sales in pet shops. But then it became known that dam was being constructed to help secure water for south-east Queensland. The dam would’ve flooded the stretch of waterway where the Mary River Turtle paddles about in shallow riffle water and rapids.

The turtle is also unusual because it has a very long tail—up to 70% the length of its shell. The Mary River Turtle can, in addition to breathing normally when at the water surface, also absorb oxygen when underwater, through gill-like structures near its cloaca (backside).

Mary river turtle photo

When amateur photographer Chris Van Wyk took these photos of a rare Mary River Turtle, complete with a punk hairdo of green algae, the conservation movement opposing the dam, suddenly had a campaign mascot the broader public could connect with. As of last month the Australia federal Senate voted against the dam being completed, though it remains to be seen if the Queensland government will heed this directive.

Australia has 788 plant and animal species listed as threatened. It would be tragic were any of these allowed to progress to extinction. Gone forever.

See also the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species

Initial story found at ::ABC News

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