Australia's unique wildlife is in danger from global warming, warn scientists  

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The Independent Online

Many of Australia's unique animal and plant species, including koalas, wombats and some types of gum tree, could be wiped out in parts of the country by global warming, a report published yesterday said.

Many of Australia's unique animal and plant species, including koalas, wombats and some types of gum tree, could be wiped out in parts of the country by global warming, a report published yesterday said.

The report, a collation of scientific research on Australia's environment, also warned that the Great Barrier Reef off the Queensland coast, the Blue Mountains west of Sydney and areas of rainforest and wetlands listed as World Heritage sites could be devastated by rising temperatures over the coming decades.

The report, Warnings from the Bush, was published by a coalition of environmental groups and identified 90 animals at risk from climate change, including a possum found only in Victoria, the hairy-nosed wombat of South Australia and Queensland's koalas.

Warmer weather would ravage many species of eucalyptus trees, the report said, while allowing the spread of native and feral weeds and increasing the likelihood of bush fires similar to those that consumed large areas of New South Wales last month.

The forecasts are based on models showing current temperatures and predicted changes in areas where certain animals live. Citing data from the respected Commonwealth Science and Industry Research Organisation, the report noted that average annual temperatures in Australia were expected to rise by up to 6C by 2070. It concluded that half of the country's tropical rainforests would be destroyed by a rise of just 1C.

The Australian government has declined to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on cutting the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming unless the United States also signs.

One of the report's reviewers, Dr Lesley Hughes, a biological scientist at Macquarie University in Sydney, said the findings should act as a wake-up call.

"Hopefully the government and the public will start to view climate change as a current problem, not one that we have to wait for our grandchildren to fix," she said.

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