Global warming and the white possum

12 February 2010

Focusing on one obscure creature demonstrates the impact of climate change, a lesson that underlines how polar bears are not the only creatures that suffer.

Stephen Williams studies the mountainous rain forest of north Queensland, Australia, where the northern lemuroid ringtail lives on the verge of extinction. The creature forages high in the canopy of the coolest, wettest forests near the top of Mount Lewis. It does not drink but derives all the water it requires from the leaves it eats. Its limited range leaves it highly vulnerable to changes in temperature as small as 4?F. Only three of the possums are known to survive, probably the remaining victims of a 2005 heat wave. According to Williams, the possum’s situation is a portent of greater biodiversity loss to come as the world grows warmer in more places. Rain forests are recognized as hotspots of diversity and home to creatures that have adapted to its niches. Endemic species may be so specialized that they will simply be unable to adapt to change fast enough to outlive it.