The Musky Rat-Kangaroo cannot survive outside its natural rainforest habitat.
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Queensland, Australia, is home to the world’s smallest kangaroos—at least for now. The tiny breed of animals seems to be going extinct. The discovery of musky rat-kangaroo fossils suggests these tiny marsupials can’t survive beyond tropical rainforests, which means their existence is seriously threatened by global warming.

There used to be many species of the rat-kangaroo over 20 million years ago, but today there is only one. These animals are extremely small—not what one would usually think of as a kangaroo. They are only 6-8 inches long and usually have a 5-6 inch tail. They move a bit differently than an average kangaroo and can carry more than one baby in their belly pouch.

Vertebrate Palaeontologist and Palaeoecologist Dr Kenny Travouillon, from UQ’s School of Earth Sciences, said the limited scope of the musky rat-kangaroo’s habitat suggested it could not survive outside that tropical rainforest environment.

“It’s not found anywhere outside the rainforests,” he said. As global warming intensifies across the planet, the musky rat-kangaroo’s only survivable habitat could quickly be decimated, leaving it unable to survive.

The tiny marsupials serve as seed dispensers by eating fruit and reintroducing seeds to the rainforest floor when they defecate, according to researchers. Along with just one other species, the large, flightless cassowary bird, the musky rat-kangaroo fulfills all the seed-dispensing duties for its entire habitat.

Finding the recent fossils may provide researchers with other valuable information. “Such finds help us better understand how animals and ecosystems evolve through climatic change, allowing us to better predict their responses to future climate change and protect the most vulnerable species,” Travouillian said. The detailed findings of the study were published online March 4 in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.