Significance to humans

Soricine shrews are an important component of natural communities and ecosystems and they have an important ecological role. The impact of soricines upon the natural environment, whether through the large amount of invertebrates consumed, or their role as prey species for many predators, is considerable. Shrews have a significant impact on litter decay, and they diminish the population density of soil invertebrates thus increasing their productivity. In this way, soricine shrews in temperate habitats accelerate decomposition of forest litter and organic matter in the upper soil layer. They can play a role in natural control of various insect pests.

Accumulation of heavy metals in insectivorous mammals through their diet containing earthworms is extremely high, and the burden in tissues of shrews may be used as a useful indicator of environmental contamination. It is unknown whether shrews have a greater resistance to heavy metals than other mammals. Strong effects of rapid environmental change on developmental stability were also recorded in free-living populations of soricine shrews and provided a tool to monitor changes in natural environments. Shrews are becoming favorable model species in research of various issues of bio-medicine and evolutionary biology.

An American pygmy shrew (Sorex hoyi) emerging from its burrow. (Photo by E. R. Degginger. Bruce Coleman, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

1. Elegant water shrew (Nectogale elegans); 2. American least shrew (Cryptotis parva); 3. Eurasian water shrew (Neomys fodiens); 4. Chinese short-tailed shrew (Blarinella quadraticauda); 5. Mérida small-eared shrew (Cryptotis meridensis); 6. Northern short-tailed shrew (Blarina brevi-cauda); 7. Himalayan water shrew (Chimarrogale himalayica); 8. Mole-shrew (Anourosorex squamipes). (Illustration by Emily Damstra)

1. Alpine shrew (Sorex alpinus); 2. American water shrew (Sorex palustris); 3. American pygmy shrew (Sorex hoyi); 4. Common shrew (Sorex ara-neus); 5. Giant shrew (Sorex mirabilis); 6. Desert shrew (Notiosorex crawfordi); 7. Hodgson's brown-toothed shrew (Soriculus caudatus); 8. Eurasian pygmy shrew (Sorex minutus). (Illustration by Emily Damstra)

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