IN JUNE 2016, scientists from the University of Queensland confirmed what had been feared for some time: the Bramble Cay mosaic-tailed rat was no more. This small rodent eked out a lonely existence on Bramble Cay, a tiny dot of land at the northern end of the Great Barrier Reef. When Europeans first landed in 1845, the place was teeming with them. But frequent inundations caused by rising sea level made life increasingly precarious and the creature is now literally a drowned rat.
This is in many ways a familiar story. A once-thriving population, endemic to a small island, wiped out by human activity. But it is also a first. The Bramble Cay mosaic-tailed rat is the only species that we know for sure was driven extinct by climate change.
We are thus in an era where two great environmental anxieties – climate change and biodiversity loss – are converging. Biologists expect many more species to go the way of the rat. If we are not already in the midst of the sixth mass extinction, we soon will be.