Document Type Master's Dissertation Author Ellis, Michael Battiscombe firstname.lastname@example.org URN etd-10022009-135223 Document Title Homeostasis : humidity and water relations in honeybee colonies (Apis mellifera) Degree MSc Department Zoology and Entomology Supervisor
Advisor Name Title Prof S W Nicolson Co-Supervisor Prof R M Crewe Supervisor Keywords
- honeybee moisture
- Apis mellifera
- climatic factors
- honeybee colonies
Date 2009-04-15 Availability unrestricted Abstract
One of the benefits of colonial living in insect societies is the ability to build a nest which enables the maintenance of a homeostatic microenvironment. The detrimental and uncertain effects of fluctuating ambient conditions are thus avoided. An extensive amount of work has documented the regulation of respiratory gases and temperature by honeybee (Apis mellifera) colonies but relatively little is known of their water relations. Nest humidity influences the fitness of the honeybee colony by affecting adult and brood mortality, microbial and parasitic growth, nectar concentration and thermoregulation. This study aims at determining whether honeybee colonies are able to actively regulate humidity within their nest or whether humidity is stabilised merely as consequence of other socially regulated parameters. As a first step in understanding water relations in a hive, the daily, seasonal and two-dimensional humidity patterns are described in diverse contexts: various subspecies, nest architectures, ambient climates and colony conditions. The humidity in the brood nest of a healthy honeybee colony does not show a daily pattern: mean hourly RH remains between 50 and 60 % and high vapour pressure deficit results in a large evaporative capacity. Two-dimensional humidity patterns show that a vapour pressure gradient exists from the central brood area to the periphery of a hive. This finding suggests possible active regulation by workers and to test this idea we determined the behavioural response of a group of workers to a humidity gradient. Young honeybee workers in the absence of brood exhibit a weak hygropreference for approximately 75% RH. When brood is present the expression of this preference is further weakened, suggesting that workers tend to the brood by distributing evenly in the gradient. In addition, fanning behaviour is shown to be triggered by increasing humidity adding to our understanding of this behaviour. Although these results suggest that humidity in honeybee colonies is actively controlled by workers, passive mechanisms are also involved in the observed patterns. Cocoons that are spun by the larvae accumulate in cells and these hygroscopic cocoons contribute to passive stabilisation of humidity. Old comb containing cocoons absorb 11 % of its own mass in water when placed in high humidity and this water can readily evaporate into the atmosphere when humidity decreases. This buffering effect may increase brood survivorship by maintaining a high and stable humidity in the brood cells. This study contributes to our understanding of the complex mechanisms that govern microclimatic regulation in social insect nests and specifically the active and passive mechanisms that ensure homeostasis of honeybee nest humidity.
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Please cite as follows:
Ellis, MB 2008, Homeostasis : humidity and water relations in honeybee colonies (Apis mellifera), MSc dissertation, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, viewed yymmdd < http://upetd.up.ac.za/thesis/available/etd-06032008-112626/ >E1382/gm
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