Abstract 1. The survival, growth and fecundity of bumblebee colonies are affected by the availability of food resources and presence of natural enemies. Social parasites (cuckoo bumblebees and other bumblebees) can invade colonies and reduce or halt successful reproduction; however, little is known about the frequency of invasion or what environmental factors determine their success in the field.
2. We used 48 experimental colonies of the bumblebee Bombus terrestris, and manipulated both resource availability at the landscape scale and date of colony founding, to explore invasion rates of social parasites and their effect on the performance of host colonies.
3. Proximity to abundant forage resources (fields of flowering oilseed rape) and early colony founding significantly increased the probability of parasite invasion and thus offset the potential positive effects of these factors on bumblebee colony performance.
4. The study concludes that optimal colony location may be among intermediate levels of resources and supports schemes designed to increase the heterogeneity of forage resources for bumblebees across agricultural landscapes.