Mountain marsupial closer to becoming first major Aussie climate change extinction

Source: Xinhua| 2019-02-03 15:31:17|Editor: xuxin
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SYDNEY, Feb. 3 (Xinhua) -- Warming weather is threatening to wipe out a mountain-dwelling marsupial species in one of Australia's most biodiverse areas, with the vulnerable animals poised to become the country's first major climate change extinction, according to latest research.

The population of white lemuroid possums, which live amid the cloud forests of the wet tropics world heritage area in the far north of Queensland state, has been slowly recovering from a heatwave in 2005 but record high temperatures in November last year could cause a major relapse, the ABC news channel quoted biologists as saying on Sunday.

"One of the rangers sent me some data from the highest mountain in the wet tropics, where it got up to 39 degrees (Celsius), which is off the charts," Professor Stephen Williams told the channel.

Much wildlife in the tropical area, which is like a "biodiversity hot spot" as it contains about half of the country's species, have not evolved mechanisms to cool their bodies down and cannot cope with extreme heat, according to the channel.

"It just takes a couple of days, these possums die from temperatures above 29 degrees (Celsius), after about 5 hours," said Williams.

"What we've noticed over the past 15 years is systematically things have started to disappear from the lower elevations," he said.

"Ringtail possums, we used to see at 600 meters ... Eight years ago, they disappeared at 700 meters ... We've systematically seen species disappear at the low elevations and be pushed up the mountain."

The country's north is already recording longer and more intense heatwaves due to human-caused climate change, climatologist Andrew King told the channel.

"In the first part of this century we're seeing 12 times as many hot records as cold records in Australia," said King.

New species moving to higher elevations in the heritage area could add to the white possums' woes, said Williams.

"They've just got nowhere else to go. There's no rainforest south that they can move to. The nearest rainforest is a thousand kilometers away," he said.