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Overview

Brief Summary

Description

"Beyond the fact that it eats beetles and spiders, very little is known about the biology of the Gaspé Shrew. Its appearance and preference for rocky habitats are similar to those of the larger, long-tailed shrew, to which it is very likely closely related. The Gaspé Shrew is found in three separate geographic locations, all in the far eastern coastal regions of Canada: the Gaspé Peninsula region of Quebec; north-central and western New Brunswick; and on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. It is often found near cool, rocky streams. As with the long-tailed shrew, the Gaspé Shrew's tail is almost as long as its head and body."

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  • Original description: Anthony, H.E., and G.G. Goodwin, 1924.  A new species of shrew from the Gaspe Peninsula. American Museum Novitates, 109:1-2.
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Distribution

endemic to a single nation

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National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

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Global Range: (20,000-200,000 square km (about 8000-80,000 square miles)) This shrew has a spotty distribution in the Gaspé Peninsula (Quebec), northern New Brunswick, and Cape Breton Island (Nova Scotia), at elevations of about 46-610 meters (Scott, 1988 COSEWIC report; Hutterer, in Wilson and Reeder 2005). Recent surveys indicate that the distribution of S. dispar extends farther to the northeast than previously known and that the gap between S. gaspensis and S. dispar is not as large as it previously appeared to be (Woolaver et al. 1998, McAlpine et al. 2004, Rhymer et al. 2004).

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Geographic Range

The geographic range of the Gaspé shrew covers select mountainous regions of eastern North America. In 1974, fifty years after it was first described (Anthony and Goodwin 1924), a relict population of Sorex gaspensis was discovered inhabiting Cape Breton Highland National Park, Nova Scotia. Today populations exist in three disjunct locations in Canada: 1) the Gaspé peninsula of southeastern Québec, 2) north central and western New Brunswick, and 3) Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

  • Roscoe, B., C. Majka. 1976. First records of the rock vole (*Microtus chrotorrhinus*) and the Gaspé shrew (*Sorex gaspensis*) from Nova Scotia and a second record of the Thompson's pygmy shrew (*Microsorex Thompsoni*) from Cape Breton Island. The Canadian Field-Naturalist, 90(4): 497-498.
  • Kirkland, G. 1999. Gaspé Shrew/ *Sorex gaspensis*. Pp. 24 in D Wilson, S Ruff, eds. The Smithsonian Book of North American Mammals. Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press.
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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

Gaspé shrews are slate-gray in color with the dorsal side slightly darker than the ventral side. There is no known seasonal variation in pelage color. The tail is not bi-colored and is relatively long, measuring an average of 49.7 mm. This length is between 80 and 90 per cent of the head-body length.

S. gaspensis is characterized as small and slender, most notably in the skull. The ‘delicately constructed’ skull has a very narrow rostrum. It is characterized as ‘non-angular’ and very depressed. Weights recorded for trapped specimens range from 2.2 to 4.3 g.

The external characteristics of S. gaspensis should easily distinguish it from all other sympatric Soricidae.

Although the two look very similar, S. gaspensis is generally distinguished from its closest relative, S. dispar, by its overall smaller size, slightly paler coloration, weaker dentition, and the proportionally larger hind foot to body size. As well, the range of possible condylobassal (15.35–16.35 mm; n=18) and the molariform tooth row (3.40-3.65mm; n=18) lengths only rarely overlap for the two species. S. dispar has lengths greater than those given above.

Range mass: 2.2 to 4.3 g.

Range length: 95 to 127 mm.

Average length: 105 mm.

  • French, T., G. Kirkland Jr.. 1983. Taxonomy of the Gaspé shrew, *Sorex gaspensis*, and the rock shrew *S. dispar*. The Canadian Field-Naturalist, 97: 75-78.
  • Kirkland, G., H. Van Deusen. 1979. The Shrews of the *Sorex dispar* group: *Sorex dispar* Batcher and *Sorex gaspensis* Anthony and Goodwin. American Musuem Novitates, 2675: 1-21.
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Size

Length: 11 cm

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Size in North America

Sexual Dimorphism: None

Length:
Average: 105 mm
Range: 95-127 mm

Weight:
Average: 2.9 g
Range: 2.2-4.4 g
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Ecology

Habitat

Comments: This shrew inhabits coniferous and mixed deciduous-coniferous forests with rocky and mountainous terrain and swift-flowing streams. It appears to specifically favor areas with mossy boulders. Rocks or talus may be an important habitat component (Kirkland, in Wilson and Ruff 1999; Scott, 1988 COSEWIC report).

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What is known about S. gaspensis habitat preferences has been learned from limited trapping occurrences throughout its range. These shrews are found in boreal spruce or mixed deciduous forests. They occur in areas of leaf-litter, or moss-covered, rocky terrain. They have been trapped at elevations from 290 to 490 m.

S. gaspensis is trapped in areas with habitat similar to the habitat of water shrews, S. palustris. Trap sites of the Gaspé shrew are often associated with small brooks or tributaries. However, the habitat of the Gaspé shrew is more often compared to that of the rock shrew, S. dispar. Both S. gaspensis and S. dispar fill the niche of living in and among rocks in higher elevations, but the two are not sympatric.

Range elevation: 290 to 490 m.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: forest

Other Habitat Features: riparian

  • Kirkland, G. 1981. *Sorex dispar* and *Sorex gaspensis*. Mammalian Species No. 155: 1-4.
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Migration

Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

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Trophic Strategy

Comments: Eats insect larvae, spiders, flies, beetles, etc. (Whitaker and French 1984).

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Food Habits

The stomach contents of 62 Gaspé shrews trapped during the summer of 1980 were examined to better understand the composition of their diet. Insect larvae and spiders were found to make up 25 percent and 23 percent of the stomach contents, respectively. Spiders were recognized as the single most important arthropod order in the diet of these animals, because of the myriad orders from which the other insect larvae came. Beetles (Coleoptera) and flies (Diptera) were the next most abundant specimens found at 10.6 percent and 11.8 percent in the stomach contents respectively. Overall, adult insencts comprized half of the stomach contents. Although not common, earthworms, and snails, and slugs were also found in the stomachs of S. gaspensis.

Plant matter was found in two specimens of S. gaspensis trapped during the summer of 1953.

It is believed that a great deal of hunting takes place in crevices and fissures of the rocky habitat these shrews occupy. Hence, with its small size, slender body, narrow rostrum and procumbent incisors, S. gaspensis is well adapted for its feeding ecology.

Animal Foods: insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods; mollusks; terrestrial worms

Primary Diet: carnivore (Insectivore , Eats non-insect arthropods)

  • Hamilton, W., W. Hamilton III. 1954. The food of some small mammals from the Gaspé Peninsula. The Canadian Field-Naturalist, 68(3): 108-109.
  • Whitaker, J., T. French. 1984. Food of six species of sympatric shrew from New Brunswick. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 62(4): 622-626.
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Associations

Ecosystem Roles

It is difficult to speculate on the ecological importance of these shrews. The species is distributed over a very small area, and densities do not appear to be very high. However, it is likely that these animals affect populations of the species upon which they prey (at least in a very local way). They may also have some impact on predator populations, although it is unlikey that any predator species would be able to rely heavily upon these animals.

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Predation

The predators of these animals have not been described. However, as with most small mammals, they probably are victims of predation by sympatric canids, felids, mustelids, hawks, and owls. It is not known if the rapid, darting movement common in the genus Sorex is an adaptation to finding food rapidly, or making capture by predators more difficult.

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Known prey organisms

Sorex gaspensis preys on:
non-insect arthropods
Annelida
Mollusca
Arthropoda
Insecta

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
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Population Biology

Number of Occurrences

Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.

Estimated Number of Occurrences: 6 - 20

Comments: As of 1988, this shrew was known from 98 specimens from 18 localities (Scott, 1988 COSEWIC report).

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Global Abundance

2500 - 100,000 individuals

Comments: Total adult population size is unknown but presumably is at least several thousand.

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Communication and Perception

Communication in this species has not been described, as captures tend to be made in pit-fall traps. However, it is likely that, as in most mammals, there is some tactile, accoustic,and chemical communication. Most shrews don't seem to have really well developed eyes, so it seems unlikely that visual communication, especially over distance, plays an important role in this species.

Communication Channels: tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

Perception Channels: visual ; acoustic

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Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

The life span of S. gaspensis is unknown, however, species from the genus Sorex typically live between one and two years.

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Reproduction

Breeding season probably spring-summer.

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The breeding system of S. gaspensis as not been described, as so few animals of this species have ever been captured. However, males of other species of Sorex compete for access to females, and are probably polygynous.

Nothing was known about the reproductive cycle of Gaspe shrews until three pregnant females were captured in 1980. The first two, both with six embryos, were trapped between 16 June and 20 July. The third pregnant female, with five embryos, was captured between 21 and 23 July. Of the 67 S. gaspensis trapped during this time the majority (93%) were young of the year, but it is not known if they were independent by the time they were trapped.

In general, species from the genus Sorex have a gestation period that lasts between 18 and 28 days. Often the young are born in nests constructed out of vegetation and young are weaned and independent four to five weeks later. Females first breed in the second year although sometimes they have been know to breed in their first year when there is a low population density.

Breeding interval: It is unknown how frequently this species breeds.

Breeding season: Based on capture of pregnant females, these animals breed in the Spring and Summer.

Range number of offspring: 5 to 6.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); fertilization ; viviparous

Nothing is known about the parental behavior of this species, except what can be inferred from general patterns within the genus. In the genus Sorex, the mother typically cares for the young, nursing them and protecting them in some sort of nest, until they are approximately four weeks old. It is not nown whether the male participates in care of the young.

Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female)

  • French, T., G. Kirkland Jr.. 1983. Taxonomy of the Gaspé shrew, *Sorex gaspensis*, and the rock shrew *S. dispar*. The Canadian Field-Naturalist, 97: 75-78.
  • Nowak, R., J. Paradiso. 1983. Walker's Mammals of the World. Fourth edition, vol.1. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
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Conservation

Conservation Status

National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: N3 - Vulnerable

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G3 - Vulnerable

Reasons: Spotty distribution in small areas in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Quebec; known from at least 18 localities, many in provincial or national parks; not threatened; questionably a distinct species.

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Due to extremely low trapping success until 1980, Gaspé shrews were formerly considered one of the rarest mammals in North America. Currently, S. gaspensis is listed as a species of special concern in Canada by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

The Atlantic Canada Conservation Data Center (AC CDC) has given S. gaspensis the following species rarity ranks following the standardized system of the Nature Conservancy and United States Natural Heritage Programs: Global rank of G3, species rarity rank in New Brunswick of S1 and species rarity rank in Nova Scotia of S2.

G3 is defined as, "Either very rare and local throughout its range (21-100 occurrences or less than 10,000 individuals) or locally in a restricted range or vulnerable to extinction from other factors."

S1 is defined as, "Extremely rare throughout its range in the province (typically 5 or fewer occurrences or very few individuals). May be especially vulnerable to extirpation."

S2 is defined as, "Rare throughout its range in the province (6 to 20 occurrences or few remaining individuals). May be vulnerable to extirpation due to rarity or other factors."

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: no special status

  • 2003. "Atlantic Canada Conservation Data Centre" (On-line). Accessed February 20, 2004 at http://www.accdc.com/.
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Global Short Term Trend: Relatively stable (=10% change)

Comments: Trends in extent of occurrence, area of occupancy, number of subpopulations, and population size are not definitely known but, based on habitat considerations, probably have been and currently are relatively stable.

Global Long Term Trend: Increase of 10-25% to decline of 30%

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Threats

Degree of Threat: Low

Comments: Potential threats may include loss of forest cover as a result of fire or clear-cutting. The habitat generally is not particularly vulnerable to severe alterations.

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Management

Biological Research Needs: The taxonomic status of this species needs to be resolved.

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Global Protection: Several (4-12) occurrences appropriately protected and managed

Comments: At least 8 collection localities are in provincial or national parks (Scott, 1988 COSEWIC report).

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Gaspé shrews have no known negative effects on humans.

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

There is no known positive impact of these animals on humans.

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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Comments: In this database we follow Rhymer et al. (2004) and Shafer et al. (2008) in treating S. gaspensis and S. dispar as conspecific.
French and Kirkland (1983) concluded from morphological data that S. dispar and S. gaspensis are not conspecific. However, the only significant difference between the two taxa is size, with S. gaspensis smaller than S. dispar (Kirkland and Van Deusen 1979, French and Kirkland 1983). Yet Sorex dispar exhibits a south to north decreasing cline in body size, suggesting the possibility that S. gaspensis is not a distinct species (e.g., Scott and van Zyll de Jong 1989) but rather simply represents the northern extent of the S. dispar cline. Accordingly, Rhymer et al. (2004) found that the apparent distributional gap between S. dispar and S. gaspensis is not as large as previously believed (if in fact it exists at all) and that a morphological cline between dispar and gaspensis cannot be ruled out. Additionally, using mtDNA d-loop sequences, Rhymer et al. (2004) found that S. gaspensis and S. dispar cluster with no taxonomic or geographic structure, suggesting that they are conspecific. Baker et al. (2003) and Hutterer (in Wilson and Reeder 2005) recognized Sorex gaspensis as a distinct species but did not cite Rhymer et al. (2004), which appeared too late for consideration. Shafer et al. (2008) analyzed cytochrome-b sequences and inter-SINE fingerprinting data and concluded that dispar and gaspensis constitute a single species composed of a monophyletic group of genetically highly similar shrews.

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