ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The native Australian platypus could become extinct in the coming years as it struggles to adapt to climate change and extreme conditions.

Drought has been the biggest issue facing the duck-billed mammal, according to the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Sydney's Centre for Ecosystem Science in a recent study. The animals thrive in waterways but with increasing reports of rivers drying up, they've been caught stranded.

They once were considered widespread across the eastern Australian mainland and Tasmania, the university says, though the extent of population loss isn't too known because of their "secretive and nocturnal nature."

The study looked at several factors threatening the unique animal, including water resource development, land clearing, climate change, drought and more. It's estimated a combination of those reasons has cut the population in half.

"These dangers further expose the platypus to even worse local extinctions with no capacity to repopulate areas," lead author Dr Gilad Bino, a researcher at the UNSW Centre for Ecosystem Science, said in a news release.

Ongoing climate change and, in turn, a worsening drought could exacerbate the population decline.

"Under predicted climate change, the losses forecast were far greater because of increases in extreme drought frequencies and duration, such as the current dry spell," the university said.

CBS News noted a study published in the journal Nature found a weather pattern that spurs drought across Australia, the Indian Ocean Dipole, has been worsened by warming temperatures.

Professor Brendan Wintle from the University of Melbourne told CBS News humans need to consider ways to reduce risk.

"Even for a presumed 'safe' species such as the platypus, mitigating or even stopping threats, such as new dams, is likely to be more effective than waiting for the risk of extinction to increase and possible failure," he said.

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