Cute Australian Possum Doomed to Climate Change?

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Australia may lose a rare marsupial to the ravages of a rapidly warming world.

Only approximately 2,000 mountain pygmy possums (Burramys parvus) survive in the alpine habitat of the Snowy Mountains of Australia. The tiny mammal was known only from fossils until a live animal was discovered in ski lodge in 1966. Sadly, climate change may push the possums back into oblivion.

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The tiny mammals depend on winter snow cover to insulate the rock dens where they hibernate for six months of the year.

“With even a one degree rise in annual average temperature, we’re likely to lose the snow,” Michael Archer, a paleontologist and naturalist at the University of New South Wales, told Reuters. “The insulation is the difference between life and death in that habitat.”

Average temperatures in Australia have already risen 0.7 degrees Celsius (1.26 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1960, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

“There’s so many ways that a change in temperature can spell doom for these possums in those environments,” said Archer.

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The lack of snow may also cause the possums to come out of hibernation before the insects and fruits they eat become available. The unfortunate marsupials then starve.

IMAGE: Mountain Pygmy-possum in hands. Burramys parvus (Steve Parish Publishing/Corbis)

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