By Helen Briggs BBC News
15 March 2017
At this time of year, bumblebee queens are a familiar sight foraging on spring flowers.
After spending the winter hibernating, they need to build up vital energy stores before laying their eggs.
According to the largest study of its kind, access to flower-rich habitats from spring through to summer is key to the survival of successive generations of the bees.
Scientists have discovered that bumblebees need flowers within a short distance (1km) of their colony.
Bumblebees are among the most important insect pollinators, yet they are in decline globally.
Until now, aspects of the lifecycle of bumblebees have remained a mystery, said ecologist, Dr Claire Carvell.
"Our research was looking to unravel some of these mysteries - and in particular to try and look at how the structure of habitats across a landscape, or the availability of flowers for the bees, affected this one key aspect of their life cycle, which was the survival of their families between years," she told BBC News.
Image copyright Lucy Hulmes Image caption The study tracked hundreds of mother, daughter and sister bumblebees across an area of farmland
The study, which took place in rural Buckinghamshire, is the first to track the effects of the surrounding landscape on wild bumblebees, from one generation to the next.
Researchers at the UK's Centre for Ecology and Hydrology sampled DNA from bumblebees of three different species. They reconstructed the family tree of hundreds of families of wild bumble bees across a large area of farmland.