The average person has probably never heard of Melomys rubicola, an Australian rat inhabiting the small reef island of Bramble Cay, but this rodent now has a permanent place in human history.
It is believed that this rat is the first mammal driven to extinction by human-induced climate change.
The last time the rat was seen in the wild was 2009, but the newly-released results of a 2014 survey revealed that the species is gone. For two months, researchers from the University of Queensland scoured the island, unable to find any traces of it. The low-lying island has an area the size of just under seven football fields, so if the rats were there, the scientists should have seen them.
There is some hope that a small population of the rats could live in New Guinea 34 miles away, but that hasn't been confirmed yet.
It is thought that climate change was responsible for destroying the rats' habitat. The researchers believe flooding has become more frequent and intense because of rising sea levels and intense weather conditions. Not only did the flooding make it difficult for the animals to survive, but it also wiped out the vegetation that was their food source.
The State of Queensland, Environmental Protection Agency
For years, scientists have been warning that rising sea levels and other effects of climate change would have dire consequences for those living on islands and in coastal areas. The loss of this first mammalian species provides irrefutable evidence that this is a deep concern — and it won't be the last.
These islands are also inhabited by people who rely on animals and vegetation to survive — so climate change threatens them as well.