Six degrees of kangaroo extinction

Global warming could drive at least one species of kangaroo to extinction if temperatures in Australia rise by just six degrees Celsius, according to a new study.

Using computer modeling, Euan G. Ritchie and Elizabeth E. Bolitho of James Cook University predict that climate change will have an immediate effect on kangaroo habitats. Over the next few decades, water will disappear, and with it will go the plants that kangaroos rely upon for food. According to Ritchie and Bolitho, a two-degrees temperature increase could may shrink kangaroos' ranges by 48 percent. A six-degree increase -- which current climate models predict could happen by the year 2070 -- would reduce habitat size by an amazing 96 percent.

Not all species of kangaroos would be affected equally. There are actually more than 60 species of kangaroos, a broad term used to refer to actual kangaroos as well as wallabies, wallaroos, pademelons and other Australian marsupials. Ritchie and Bolitho predict that the antilopine wallaroo would be the worst hit, as a two-degree temperature increase would reduce its habitat size by 89 percent. Six degrees would drive the wallaroo into extinction.

The study will be published in the December issue of Physiological and Biochemical Zoology.

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