May 16, 2014 | 10
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.
Travouillon 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: