Has climate change claimed first mammal extinction?
SCIENTISTS say a white possum native to Queensland's Daintree forest has become the first mammal to become extinct due to man-made global warming.
The white lemuroid possum, a rare creature found only above 1000m in the mountain forests of far north Queensland, has not been seen for three years.
Experts fear climate change is to blame for the disappearance of the highly vulnerable species thanks to a temperature rise of up to 0.8C.
Researchers will mount a last-ditch expedition early next year deep into the untouched "cloud forests" of the Carbine range near Mt Lewis, three hours north of Cairns, in search of the tiny tree-dweller, dubbed the "Dodo of the Daintree".
The cute white possum (Hemibelideus lemuroids) has not been sighted in any night time spotlighting expedition since 2005.
Scientists believe some frog, bug and insects species have also been killed off by climate change. But this would be the first known loss of a mammal and the most significant since the extinction of the Dodo and the Tasmanian Tiger.
"It is not looking good," researcher Steve Williams said.
"If they have died out it would be first example of something that has gone extinct purely because of global warming."
Professor Williams, director of the Centre for Tropical Biodiversity and Climate Change at James Cook University, said the white lemuroid possum had been identified as highly vulnerable five years ago.
"It only takes four or five hours of temperatures above 30C to kill this highly vulnerable species," he said.
"They live off the moisture in the trees in the cooler, high-altitude cloud forests and, under extreme heat, they are unable to maintain their body temperature."
He said record high temperatures in the summer of 2005 could have caused a massive die-off.
"Prior to 2005 we were seeing a lemuroid every 45 minutes of spotlighting at one main site at Mt Lewis," Professor Williams said.
"But, in three years, in more than 20 hours of intensive spotlighting, none has been sighted."
Reef and Rainforest Research Centre chief executive Sheridan Morris said the "eyes of the world" would be on next year's the expedition to find the little creature.
"If it has died out it will be devastating," Ms Morris said.
"It is a big one, and a big one to bang the drum over.
"It is equally as shocking as losing an iconic marine species like a whale or the dugong."