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Winter Survival Adaptations of the Short-Tailed Shrew (Blarina brevicauda) in an Appalachian Montane Forest

Joseph F. Merritt
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/1381276 450-464 First published online: 8 August 1986


The short-tailed shrew (Blarina brevicauda) is a very common small mammal in eastern deciduous forests of North America. Survivorship of this winter-active soricid during the winter is good. This study examined seasonal changes in body mass, resting metabolic rate (RMR), and non-shivering thermogenesis (NST) of live-trapped B. brevicauda as important adaptations which enhance over-winter survival. Body mass of shrews captured in April increased 39% over average body mass of September-captured shrews. RMR in January represented a 38% increase in metabolic rate relative to August, and NST increased by 54% in January as compared to August. Monthly RMR and NST values showed an inverse relationship to minimum environmental temperature of the capture site. A general “adaptive winter profile” for B. brevicauda incorporates many behavioral, physiological and anatomical adaptations including: utilization of elaborate nests, food hoarding, reliance on abundant, energy-rich prey, winter foraging confined to a stable thermal regime, reduced activity during periods of cold, and increased thermogenic capacity in winter due to NST with resultant hypertrophy of interscapular brown adipose tissue.

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