A severe Queensland heat wave all but wiped out a white possum that researchers fear may become the first casualty of climate change.
A rare Australian possum is being dubbed the new polar bear of climate change.
Just four white lemuroid ringtail possums have been found in the wild and scientists say the species could soon become the first creature to be wiped out by global warming.
“I think this really should be a wake-up call,” tropical rainforests expert and James Cook University researcher Professor Bill Laurance told AAP.
“We’re arguing this is a better icon for global warming than a polar bear because it typifies the type of biodiversity we will lose in the future.”
The possums are found mainly in a far north Queensland rainforest on a single mountain range about 1000 metres above sea level.
Their numbers were in the thousands when a severe heat wave hit the area in 2005, which all but wiped out the species.
Just four have been found since.
Prof Laurance, who researched the possum as part of his PhD, says breeding it is almost impossible because it can only live in a specific environment.
“So if the environmental conditions become to the point where it just can’t survive, there’s probably not much you can do,” he said.
He believes that in many ways the possum is a better mascot for the perils of global warming than the polar bear.
“This possum can only survive in a narrow range of temperatures,” he said.
“It’s similar to a canary in a coalmine, providing a warning about what could happen to a lot of other tropical animals that will struggle to adapt to rising temperatures.”
On Tuesday, JCU representatives and Greens leader Senator Christine Milne unveiled a possum brooch designed by French jeweller Lea Stein, which will be sold in Australia to boost awareness about the animal’s plight.