Global Warming Threatening Platypus Habitat in Australia

Duck-billed Platypus, a unique creature from Australia is under threat from global warming and climate change. Experts predict that if the earth continues to get hotter, the animal could lose almost one third of its habitat in Australia, surviving only in the King and Kangaroo islands and in Tasmania.

According to a new study from Monash University in Melbourne, the warmer climate that the planet is experiencing everyday could make the survival of the platypus very difficult that have a thick fur on their body and helps them survive in the cool water holes and rivers.

The platypus has always puzzled naturalists for its visibly different characteristics that sometimes look similar to a bird, sometimes to a mammal and sometimes like a reptile. They are in nature mild animals that feed by night and hide inside waterholes and cold rivers burrows during days to protect themselves from predators like fox and eagles.

The research published in the journal Global Change Biology was done after careful study of more than 100 years of data of platypus habitat and changing weathers. The researchers were able to find out the variation in the population of the species with droughts and heat events.

The team then used their findings to analyze over a range of climate change scenarios laid out by the government’s science research agency, CSIRO to figure out how climate change would affect the population of this native species.

“Our worst case scenario at the moment suggested a one-third reduction in their suitable habitat,” researcher Jenny Davis said.

She warned that this was actually an added threat to the population apart from the land clearing and damming of water bodies for hydroelectric projects.

“Under a drying climate we’ll be taking more water away from the environment because of our human needs, and predators are going to become more of an issue for (the) platypus,” she said.

Through the data the team researched they found that some of the platypus population was already declining due to Australia’s rising temperature. Since 1960s when the global warming phenomenon was first noticed, some of the population was already feeling the heat.

“Compared with 50 years ago some places have become too warm for them. Their habitat is shrinking,” she said.

The researcher warned that the platypus, which is classified as ‘common but vulnerable’, could easily go extinct like the Tasmanian devil whose numbers is declining fast owing to the present scenario. It was already extinct in southern Australian states.

The platypus has two layers of fur on its body unlike the otter or the polar bear. The outer layer is long while the inner layer is woolly. It is this protection that helps the animal bear the cold water and made the coat water resistant. Its average body temperature remains  32 degrees Celsius (89 Fahrenheit) which is lower than most other mammals and in warmer waters the body overheats rapidly.

It is the same coat therefore that may make its survival in warmer climates very difficult.

The heating also is resulting in drying of the waterways where the platypus hunt for food like the aquatic invertebrates. To survive they need to have as food at least 30 percent of their own body weight.

The researcher said that the survival struggle of the platypus was yet another warning sign of global warming.