1. We have little idea how landscape-scale factors influence the success of wild bumblebee nests over time. Here for the first time we use molecular markers to estimate within-season changes in the numbers of nests.
2. Workers of two bumblebee species were sampled in an arable landscape in late May–June and late July–August, and the numbers of nests represented in each sample were estimated. We compare the methods available to estimate nest number from such samples and conclude that methods which allow for heterogeneity in the probability of capture of nests provide the best fit to our data. Changes in numbers of nests at the two time points were used to infer nest survival.
3. The two bee species appeared to differ markedly in survival over time, with estimates of 45% of nests surviving for Bombus lapidarius and 91% for B. pascuorum. However, our data suggest that the foraging range of B. pascuorum may be greater in late season, which would lead us to overestimate nest survival in this species. Differential survival may also reflect differences in phenology between the two species.
4. The land use class which had the most consistent effects on nest number and survival was gardens; for B. lapidarius, the area of gardens within a 750 and 1000 m radius positively influenced nest survival, while for B. pascuorum, the number of nests in late samples was higher at sites with more gardens within a 500 and 750-m radius. For B. pascuorum, the area of grassland within a 250 and 500-m radius also positively influenced nest number in late samples, probably because this is the preferred nesting habitat for this species.
5. The importance of gardens is in accordance with previous studies which suggest that they now provide a stronghold for bumblebees in an otherwise impoverished agricultural environment; furthermore, our data suggest that the positive influence of gardens on bumblebee populations can spill over at least 1 km into surrounding farmland.
6. Synthesis and applications. The substantial effects that even small areas of local resources such as rough grassland or clover leys can have on bumblebee nest numbers and survival is of clear relevance for the design of pollinator management strategies.