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Climate Change Could Wipe Out the World’s Smallest Kangaroo [Video]

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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musky rat kangarooScientists in Australia have warned that we’d better get hopping and slow down climate change if we want to prevent the world’s smallest kangaroo from going extinct.

The musky rat-kangaroo (Hypsiprymnodon moschatus), which reaches just 35 centimeters in length, lives in a tiny stretch of tropical rainforest on Australia’s northeastern coast. According to researchers from the University of Queensland (U.Q.) and the University of New South Wales, the miniscule kangaroos adapted to their current habitat millions of years ago and may be unable to adjust to changing conditions. “We must carefully monitor the tropical rainforest because if climate change does affect it, the musky rat-kangaroo, and possibly other species, will have nowhere else to go,” Kenny Travouillon from the U.Q.’s School of Earth Sciences said last week in a press release. He pointed out the fruit-eating mini roo’s important role in seed dispersal, which helps to keep the entire rainforest healthy. Only one other species, the southern cassowary (Casuarius casuarius), fulfills the same role in that ecosystem.

musky rat kangarooTravouillon and other researchers recently discovered several prehistoric species of related musky rat-kangaroos that lived in the same region 20 million years ago. They say their discovery, published this past March in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, is an indication that the one remaining is too specialized to move to a different environment. Trovouillon told the Brisbane Times that the kangaroos have never been found outside of tropical rainforests, not even in nearby temperate rainforests, which have lower rainfall levels and hold completely different plant species. Their rainforest habitat could experience temperature rises of 4 to 5 degrees Celsius and a corresponding 5 to 10 percent less rainfall by the year 2070, according to current climate models.

The kangaroo faces other threats aside from climate change, too. Some of its habitat is also being cut down to make way for golf courses and suburban development. Luckily most of the remaining habitat is in a national park, so the species is protected enough for now that the International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies it on its Red List of Threatened Species as of “least concern” in terms of extinction risk. That might change in another few decades, though.

You can see the musky rat-kangaroo hopping through the jungle in this short video:

Illustration: A 1927 drawing of the musky rat-kangaroo by Gustav Mutzel via Wikipedia. Public domain. Photo by RachTHeH via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons license

John R. Platt About the Author: Twice a week, John Platt shines a light on endangered species from all over the globe, exploring not just why they are dying out but also what's being done to rescue them from oblivion. Follow on Twitter @johnrplatt.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. Cahokia 11:53 am 05/16/2014

    This article doesn’t really make clear why an increase of average temperatures would reduce tropical rain forest extent in Australia.

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  2. 2. John R. Platt in reply to John R. Platt 3:39 pm 05/16/2014

    Thanks, Cahokia, I added rainfall change projections into the article.

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  3. 3. SJCrum 5:30 pm 05/16/2014

    With all due respect for this article, and the truly good intent involved in protecting a wildlife type, the first person’s comment about not being able to see how a rainforest would be affected, is correct. In fact, the other near-rain forest mentioned in the article would actually be increased, and that would make it so that species, which is being threatened by golf courses, could trot its little fanny right over there to the added rain forest that its sweet, little self loves so much.
    Just imagine the result of this having all of these sweet little musky cheers occurring in the evenings after they had had such a tremendously lovely day over in the new somewhat “fun park”.
    So, I am sorry to bring this up, but the first writer’s comment was really right and there isn’t any damage that would be caused by heat being able to threaten a tropical paradise.

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  4. 4. SJCrum 5:32 pm 05/16/2014

    Also, think of that extreme muskrat joy causing an enormous baby boom of the little sweet, critters. Wall-to-wall happy little varmints.

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  5. 5. SJCrum 5:59 pm 05/16/2014

    By the way, a truly good idea is to encourage urban planning that, instead of just destroying habitat areas that animals live in, the design of the new areas should have wildlife areas mixed in everywhere. The point of this is that predators will stay completely out of these planned wildlife areas and the little varmints can be totally safe and happy.
    So, a newly planned area can be an enormously positive thing if it is planned really great. Also, I would encourage transplanting the little varmints into their new homes. Happy little critters. Think of really sloppy wide grins on their furry little faces.
    By the way, this is not only a win/win for everyone, but also one that is a zillion wins, and because of the extremely great safety thing that is accomplished for them
    By the way also, where I live, it is actually in a city, but I have wildlife that feels totally safe all around our home. There are wild turkeys, deer, baby deer, raccoons, ground hogs that have cute little wiggling butts, deer and birds all over the place. There was also a totally despicable chicken hawk that invaded near here years ago, and I have a pellet gun that would impact its feathery, also, butt, if it ever comes around again.
    Anyway, making a nature habitat in the midst of homes, etc., can be a total success for everyone.

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  6. 6. BrianL 4:03 am 05/17/2014

    I can’t tell if you’re being deliberately sarcastic or just have a weird way expressing yourself, because you do seem to have some serious suggestions inbetween the ‘fun’.

    Your suggestion of adding wildlife areas into areas that are being developed has merit, but you don’t seem to understand that such small stretches would not be the same as pristine rainforest. You add that predators would not go there and that alone should give you a clue that such areas would not have the same ecological health as true rainforest would. Endangered though they might be, musky rat-kangaroos probably need to be predated on to some extent if they are not to exceed the capacity of their environment, especially a marginal one.

    I suggest you read up on trophic cascades, which is about the way organisms in the same ecosystem have direct and mostly indirect impacts on each other and that, generally speaking, ecosystems with a large number of species including larger predators tend to be healthier. The main gist is that such larger predators control the numbers of both larger herbivores and their impact on vegetation and on smaller predators that otherwise explode in numbers and put an extreme pressure on their prey species.
    Your examples of wildlife that feels safe around your home are, incidentally, mostly examples of either uncontrolled harge herbivores and such smaller predators probably existing in numbers far larger than healthy. That you apparently shoot chicken hawks underlines that you do not understand ecology: it’s for the best that some predation takes place on those animals you mentioned and you can bet that those raccoons especially are heavy impact predators on small local wildlife in their own right. Your local urban ecology would be in better shape if there were say wolves, bobcats or pumas present (I presume you live in North America) but as this is probably unlikely, I would strongly suggest that you would actually ‘allow’ birds of prey around.

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  7. 7. SJCrum 7:36 pm 05/17/2014

    To BrianL – While your comments appear to have some logical truth to them, the real situation is that REAL animals that live a life of fear do FAR BETTER when they, simply, are NOT EATEN. And, if you would ask ANY CRITTER in the world if it would rather be a healthy runner that is able to survive by outrunning the very violent killers, they would say to you something that would be the equivalent of “you’re out of your ever lovin’ mind!”
    By the way, part of the real science is that God totally knows how to talk to their furry little tushed selves, and He knows for a fact, everything about how they think and feel.
    Animals, that have positive souls have feelings inside them, and they factually would rather live totally wonderful lives. An example of this was that my elderly female neighbor received a small, Siamese cat from her son so she wouldn’t be lonely. That cat, which had previously come from a farm, and where it was among lots of other animals, came over to our house and stood on its back paws right in front of my quite large dog. My dog stood on all four feet and looked down its long nose and had the likely thought of “I am going to eat you in about two seconds, so there.”
    The point of this is that cute little cat rubbed the side of its muzzle on the side of my dog’s. And, they were friends from that day on.
    I also had a wild rabbit, that had a huge scar of its face, that was sitting very close to where I was playing with my dog, and just watched everything we were doing.
    I also had a wild turkey that, when I quickly went out of my front door, got all afraid, and when I told it very calmly that it was totally safe and there wasn’t anything to be afraid of, the fear just melted totally away, and it went on with its totally wonderful day.
    I even had a small bird just a few days ago that had landed on the railing of my deck, and as I was putting bird seed out on a table there, it even flew over to the table after I had very calmly and pleasantly told it not to be afraid at all also. It landed within two feet of me.
    So, I know you think that there are all of the eco-systems, and they supposedly require predators to keep the numbers down, but the truth is that God made all of the wonderful-souled animals to be extremely happy and to be totally safe in the world that He had made. On the bad side, which is fact whether unfortunately believed or not, all of the killing types of animal “souls”, if they could even be called that, are what Satan has used to totally kill and destroy everything wonderful that God has made. So, the predators in the eco-systems are only a false theory, and the real science is that their entire purpose is to kill every single thing totally.
    In truth, God knows EXACTLY how every single one of His animals needs to live, and live in its greatest way.

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  8. 8. SJCrum 6:14 pm 05/18/2014

    BrianL – Concerning the thinking that predators are needed to control certain animals from over populating, the real science, which can be totally tested to prove the point, is that all species that over populate only accomplish that situation when they start starving. And, it is a fact that when they are starving they all stop mating completely.
    So, this is the way the real system works. It is self-controlled. And, exactly as God has made it.
    So, the eco-systems are not anywhere nearly as great as so many have thought.
    By the way, the real truth about dear season, and that being needed to prevent deer from overpopulating is instead of being a greatly important thing, it is instead nothing more than an excuse for hunters to go out and kill very innocent and un-defensible deer.

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  9. 9. SJCrum 6:21 pm 05/18/2014

    One last thing to mention on your comments about this article is that the eco-systems that you described and especially about the required predators, the article was all about preventing a species from being caused to be EXTINCT. So, your predator point, which it wasn’t even that, because they factually are not needed, certainly goes in the totally wrong direction about non-extinction.
    So, I thought I would point out that little gem of total fact.

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  10. 10. SteveO 12:26 pm 05/19/2014

    SJCrum, I am not sure why you are hitting so hard when BrianL is just expressing what we understand about ecosystems. Surely it is clear that extinction is an unalloyed bad, but that there are degrees of preserving the little kangaroo that are healthier than others. Artificial ecosystems as you describe are better than extinction, but not as good as a healthy and diverse ecosystem. Every time we as a species have simplified an ecosystem it has had long-reaching consequences. The recent case study of wolves and elk in Yellowstone and their effect on rivers is a case in point.

    Since the ecosystems evolved with the complexity that they did means that they are more robust to shocks, but also that there is a lot of interdependence that we don’t necessarily know about. Forest tracts in a development is the very definition of a simplified ecosystem being subject to the capriciousness of man and environment.

    If you believe in souls, and that the little kangaroos have them, then surely they would be more happy in their natural habitat than in someone’s backyard?

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