Do honeybees, Apis mellifera scutellata, regulate humidity in their nest?
Honeybees are highly efficient at regulating the biophysical parameters of their hive according to colony needs. Thermoregulation has been the most extensively studied aspect of nest homeostasis. In contrast, little is known about how humidity is regulated in beehives, if at all. Although high humidity is necessary for brood development, regulation of this parameter by honeybee workers has not yet been demonstrated. In the past, humidity was measured too crudely for a regulation mechanism to be identified. We reassess this issue, using miniaturised data loggers that allow humidity measurements in natural situations and at several places in the nest. We present evidence that workers influence humidity in the hive. However, there are constraints on potential regulation mechanisms because humidity optima may vary in different locations of the nest. Humidity could also depend on variable external factors, such as water availability, which further impair the regulation. Moreover, there are trade-offs with the regulation of temperature and respiratory gas exchanges that can disrupt the establishment of optimal humidity levels. As a result, we argue that workers can only adjust humidity within sub-optimal limits.
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