Slight rise in temperature could halve kangaroo population

October 16th, 2008 - 11:43 am ICT by IANS  

Sydney, Oct 16 (IANS) An increase in daily temperature of only two degrees Celsius could wipe out large numbers of kangaroos in Australia, according to a new study. “Our study provides evidence that climate change has the capacity to cause the possible extinction of one (kangaroo) species in northern Australia,” wrote Euan G. Ritchie and Elizabeth E. Bolitho of James Cook University.

Ritchie and Bolitho used computer modelling and three years of field observations to predict how temperature changes over the next half-century might affect four species of kangaroos.

They found that a temperature increase as miniscule as a half-degree Celsius may shrink kangaroos’ geographic ranges. An increase of two degrees may halve kangaroo population. A six-degree increase might shrink ranges by 96 per cent.

Ritchie said that generally accepted climate models predict temperatures in northern Australia to be between 0.4 and two degrees warmer by 2030, and between two and six degrees warmer by 2070.

The most significant effects of climate change are not necessarily on the animals themselves, but on their habitats - specifically, in amounts of available water. This is particularly true in Northern Australia, said Ritchie, according to a release of James Cook University.

“If dry seasons are to become hotter and rainfall events more unpredictable, habitats may become depleted of available pasture for grazing and waterholes may dry up,” the authors wrote.

“This may result in starvation and failed reproduction, or possible death due to dehydration for those species that are less mobile.”

And although kangaroo species may be mobile enough to relocate as the climate changes, the vegetation and topography for which they are adapted are unlikely to shift at the same pace.

The study is scheduled for publication in the December issue of the University of Chicago’s Physiological and Biochemical Zoology.

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