Acta Theriologica

, Volume 47, Supplement 1, pp 169–184 | Cite as

Why are shrews so small? The costs and benefits of small size in northern temperateSorex species in the context of foraging habits and prey supply

  • Sara Churchfield


This paper reviews the ecological advantages and disadvantages of very small body size inSorex Linnaeus, 1758 shrews living at high latitudes with cold winters. It examines the feeding and foraging habits of small and large shrews in the context of prey supply, location of winter prey sources, territory requirements, habitat exploitation and inter-specific competition. Data on feeding habits and prey availability show that the major costs of small size are a reduction in food niche breadth and prey biomass resulting from restrictions on the type and size of prey eaten, and large territory requirements. Major benefits of small size are the ability to subsist on small, numerous and accessible arthropods with high encounter rates, enabling coexistence with larger congeners and exploitation of low-productivity habitats less suitable for larger earthworm-eating species. Small size, coupled with low per capita food intake, is shown to be of special adaptive value in cold winters when food supply is restricted mostly to small arthropods, and earthworms are few.

Key words

shrew Sorex body size feeding habits prey availability winter 


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Copyright information

© Mammal Research Institute, Bialowieza, Poland 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sara Churchfield
    • 1
  1. 1.Division of Life SciencesKing’s College LondonLondonEngland

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