Kangaroos at risk from climate change
October 16, 2008
A 2°C-rise in temperature could trigger significant range contraction for kangaroos in Australia and put one species at high risk of extinction, reports research published in the December issue of Physiological and Biochemical Zoology.
Using computer modeling and three years of field observations, Euan G. Ritchie and Elizabeth E. Bolitho of James Cook University in Australia forecast the impact of various temperature scenarios on four species of kangaroos over the next 50 years. They find that even a 0.5°C increase in temperature could reduce kangaroos’ geographic ranges, while an increase of two degrees may shrink kangaroos’ ranges by 48 percent, and a six-degree increase might diminish ranges by 96 percent. These temperature increases are within the range of generally accepted climate models for northern Australia.
Ritchie and Bolitho say that kangaroos will be mostly affected by reduced availability of water in their habitats rather than an increase in temperature itself.
“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 write. “This may result in starvation and failed reproduction… or possible death due to dehydration for those species that are less mobile.”
The authors say the antilopine wallaroo, a kangaroo species that lives in a wet, tropical climate, faces the greatest potential risk. Its range could shrink 89 percent with a two-degree temperature increase.
This article is based on press materials from James Cook University