Prolonged drought and other effects of climate change are pushing the duck-billed platypus, one of Australia’s most unique species, towards extinction, scientists warned in a study published Monday.
The furry river-dwelling mammal has already disappeared from as much as 40 percent of its historical range on the east coast of Australia due to drought, land clearing, pollution and the construction of dams, the researchers said.
Scientists from the University of New South Wales’ Centre for Ecosystem Science say if the current threats persist, platypus numbers will fall a further 47-66 percent over the next 50 years.
If projections about worsening climate change are taken into account, the numbers of the egg-laying mammal could plummet up to 73 percent by 2070, they added.
“These dangers further expose the platypus to even worse local extinctions, with no capacity to repopulate areas,” said Gilad Bino, lead author of the study.
The scientists said there was an “urgent need” for a national risk assessment to determine if the platypus should be recognised as “vulnerable” and to lay out conservation steps “to minimise any risk of extinction”.
The study is the first across all platypus habitat zones to establish a so-called “metapopulation” model while also projecting the impacts of climate change on the species going forward.
The survey estimated the total platypus population had fallen by 50 percent since European settlement in 1788.
An earlier study published in November 2018 estimated the population had fallen by 30 percent over that period, to around 200,000.
The platypus, which along with four species of echidna are the only mammals that lay eggs, has a tail like a beaver, otter-like feet and a venomous spur on its hind leg.
Experts say as many as one billion animals may have died in the massive bushfires that took hold of Australia’s tinder-dry bush in September, tearing through vast swaths of the country’s more-populated southeast and destroying crucial animal habitats.
In work published towards the end of last year, Australian scientists found that 100 of Australia’s endemic species had gone extinct since Europeans arrived on the continent.
Scientists said that at least three extinctions took place in the last decade and with the introduction of predators like foxes and cats, and environmentally significant events like drought and fire, the extension could only accelerate over the years.