Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

'Marsupials In The Mist': Threatened By Climate Change

Date:
December 21, 1998
Source:
CSIRO Australia
Summary:
Like victims of a flood, some of Australia's rarest marsupials have retreated to the tops of the highest mountains in the wet tropics in a bid to avoid the fatal consequences of long-term climate change.

Like victims of a flood, some of Australia’s rarest marsupials have retreated to the tops of the highest mountains in the wet tropics in a bid to avoid the fatal consequences of long-term climate change.

Seven species of leaf-eating marsupials - two tree kangaroos and five kinds of possum -- are now stranded on the cool peaks, the last representatives of an extraordinary rich fauna that flourished in northern Australia over the past 20 million years.

The issue that John Kanowski is working against the clock to resolve is whether two degrees more of global warming will dramatically reduce the numbers of these unique animals.

The research is being carried out at the Rainforest Cooperative Research Centre (Rainforest CRC) as part of Mr Kanowski’s doctoral studies at CSIRO and James Cook University.

“These animals are relicts of the time when rainforests covered much of Australia. They are the last remaining representatives of an ancient and diverse fauna,” he explains.

“The possums and tree-kangaroos are essentially temperate animals that have become isolated in the high misty mountains of the tropics. They are tree-dwelling, cool-adapted and very territorial in their behaviour.

“They may be highly susceptible to global warming. A two degree warming in global climate which took place between 5000 and 3500 years ago is thought to have caused a major extinction event, and led the remaining marsupials to retreat to the mountain tops.”

Mr Kanowski’s concern is that changes in climate and the composition of the earth’s atmosphere over the coming 50-100 years could have an equally dire impact on the last surviving possums and tree kangaroos in the Australian tropics.

“For one thing, the atmosphere is becoming richer in carbon dioxide, and this makes the tree leaves on which these animals subsist, tougher and less digestible,” he explains.

Because humans have cleared the rainforest off most of the richer soils of northern Australia, what is left now mostly grows on thin, poor, granite soils about as nutritious as sand. This means the trees themselves are low in the nutrients needed by tree kangaroos and possums to sustain themselves.

“Because the leaves are poor in nutrients, the animals need to eat more to survive - and that means their intake of natural plant toxins is higher too, so they may be gradually poisoned by their own diet.”

Leaves of the rainforest tree contain natural substances which protect the plant against over-browsing by animals and insects - poisons such as phenolics, alkaloids and cyanide-forming compounds.

“In effect, land clearing, climate change and their own behaviour have already penned these animals into poor upland areas above 700 metres, where they are increasingly vulnerable to further changes in their diet or temperature.”

According to Mr Kanowski, understanding the physiology of these animals is the key to predicting their response to climate and habitat change.

“We think the animals need cool conditions, not only to keep their body temperatures down, but also to provide the dew they drink on misty mountain tops,” he says.

“If the cool wet forest retreats, the animals have no choice but to go with it.”

Mr Kanowski is also concerned at the potential impact on the rainforest itself which the extinction of tree-dwelling animals might have.

“These animals have been part of the rainforest for millions of years. Along with insects, they perform an important task in ‘mowing’ the forest.

“Take away the animals and you may also start to lose the diversity of the trees,” he warns.

More information: Julian. Cribb@nap.csiro.au


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by CSIRO Australia. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

CSIRO Australia. "'Marsupials In The Mist': Threatened By Climate Change." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 December 1998. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/12/981220231554.htm>.
CSIRO Australia. (1998, December 21). 'Marsupials In The Mist': Threatened By Climate Change. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 2, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/12/981220231554.htm
CSIRO Australia. "'Marsupials In The Mist': Threatened By Climate Change." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/12/981220231554.htm (accessed August 2, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Pyrenees Orphan Bear Cub Gets Brand New Home

Pyrenees Orphan Bear Cub Gets Brand New Home

AFP (Aug. 1, 2014) The discovery of a bear cub in the Pyrenees mountains made headlines in April 2014. Despire several attempts to find the animal's mother, the cub remained alone. Now, the Pyrenees Conservation Foundation has constructed an enclosure. Duration: 00:31 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ebola Vaccine Might Be Coming, But Where's It Been?

Ebola Vaccine Might Be Coming, But Where's It Been?

Newsy (Aug. 1, 2014) Health officials are working to fast-track a vaccine — the West-African Ebola outbreak has killed more than 700. But why didn't we already have one? Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Study Links Certain Birth Control Pills To Breast Cancer

Study Links Certain Birth Control Pills To Breast Cancer

Newsy (Aug. 1, 2014) Previous studies have made the link between birth control and breast cancer, but the latest makes the link to high-estrogen oral contraceptives. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Rare Whale Fossil Pulled from Calif. Backyard

Rare Whale Fossil Pulled from Calif. Backyard

AP (Aug. 1, 2014) A rare whale fossil has been pulled from a Southern California backyard. The 16- to 17-million-year-old baleen whale fossil is one of about 20 baleen whale fossils known to exist. (Aug. 1) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins