Interactions between humidity and evaporative heat dissipation in a passerine bird.J Comp Physiol B. 2019 04; 189(2):299-308.JC
Environmental humidity is thought to be a major determinant of evaporative cooling capacity at high air temperatures (Ta), but the technical challenges of experimentally manipulating humidity in respirometry chambers have resulted in far less being known about the effects of humidity compared to those of Ta. We tested the prediction that at Ta approaching and exceeding normothermic body temperature (Tb), high humidity would result in higher Tb, lower evaporative water loss (EWL) and/or higher resting metabolic rate (RMR) in a passerine bird, the white-browed sparrow-weaver (Plocepasser mahali). We used open-system flow-through respirometry to measure EWL, RMR and Tb in sparrow-weavers experiencing Ta = 36-44 °C and chamber humidities of 6, 13, 19 or 25 g m- 3. Increasing humidity was associated with significantly higher Tb. The strongest effect of humidity, however, involved significant increases in RMR; at Ta = 40 °C, RMR at a humidity of 25 g m- 3 was ~ 40% higher compared to a humidity of 6 g m- 3. Moreover, the interaction between Ta and humidity exerted a significant effect on the ratio of evaporative heat loss (EHL) to metabolic heat production (MHP), evident as an increasing effect of humidity with increasing Ta. Our results, when compared with those of the limited number of previous studies that involved similar ranges of Ta and humidity, reveal that the relative effects of humidity on EWL and RMR vary among avian taxa, and support the notion that the overall effect of high humidity is a reduction in maximum EHL/MHP.