A far north Queensland biologist has issued a dire warning for the Wet Tropics, declaring dozens of endemic species may become extinct far sooner than previously feared.
Rising temperatures may lead to rapid nature loss in the Wet Tropics
Scorching heat waves and deadly wildfires like those experienced in the northern hemisphere this year would be catastrophic for the region’s wildlife, James Cook University Professor Steve Williams said. Speaking to ABC Radio to mark Threatened Species Day, Professor Williams said the added pressure of an El Niño event this wet season could place native animals under unprecedented levels of stress.
“The early predictions were half the species (in the Wet Tropics) going extinct by the end of the century but things could happen a lot faster than that,” he said. “Many of the birds have already lost more than 30-40 percent of their total populations. It’s a massive concern.
“Over the next couple of years, with El Niño, we might experience some severe heatwave events over our summers that could have immediate impacts. From now on, we’re going into territory that these species haven’t experienced.”
The lemuroid ringtail possum (pictured above), found high in the canopies of mature forests, could be among the first animals to die out.
“They’ve lost almost 60 percent of their population,” Professor Williams said. “The Queensland Government listed them as critically endangered late last year.
“But there are all these possums, birds, frogs that live in the top half of mountains that are only found between 1,000 and 1,500 metres. As you go up a mountain, the area gets smaller and smaller. So, if they get pushed up the mountain by increasing temperatures they’ve really got nowhere to go.”
Professor Williams said the Wet Tropics faced new threats.
“20 years ago, you never thought of fire as a threat to rainforest,” he said. “That’s changed globally. There are many places around the world where fire has gone through rainforest. We’ve had significant fires in the rainforest in the Wet Tropics in recent years. It’s a real threat to our World Heritage Area.”
Enhancing resilience through restoration, creating wildlife corridors and buffering refugia was critical to avoiding species loss throughout the next decade, Professor Williams said.
Professor Steve Williams is the chair of the Wet Tropics Management Authority’s Scientific Advisory Committee.
This is an edited article published in New Leaf, the e-Newsletter fop the Wet Tropics Restoration Alliance.