1. Entomopathogenic nematodes belonging to the families Heterorhabditidae and Steinernematidae are lethal obligate parasites of a wide range of invertebrate species. These nematodes exhibit many characteristics that make them ideal candidates as biological control agents of insect pests (rapid host death, high reproductive rates, easily mass-reared in vitro, easy application techniques).
2. However, at present, the number of pest species to which these nematodes are applied successfully is small. Clearly, there is a need to develop existing knowledge of the nematode into a more complete understanding of the nematode–pest system as a whole.
3. To consider the potential of entomopathogenic nematodes as biological control agents, we adopted a generalized analytical modelling approach and, using realistic parameter estimates, determined the conditions under which these nematodes can regulate a pest population.
4. Stability analyses suggested that entomopathogenic nematodes may not be capable of regulating a host population to a stable equilibrium. Long-term persistence of the host and nematode population is unlikely, due to the highly destabilizing effects of the parasite–host relationship. As such, these nematodes may be better suited to short-term control through inundative application techniques rather than long-term regulation.
5. This preliminary generalized model highlights areas where further work is needed. This includes estimation of the probability of nematode infection in the field, the effect of host size on the transmission cycle and the influence of spatial heterogeneity on stability.