The Pasteuria group of endospore-forming bacteria has been studied as a biocontrol agent of plant-parasitic nematodes. Techniques have been developed for its detection and quantification in soil samples, and these mainly focus on observations of endospore attachment to nematodes. Characterization of Pasteuria populations has recently been performed with DNA-based techniques, which usually require the extraction of large numbers of spores. We describe a simple immunological method for the quantification and characterization of Pasteuria populations. Bayesian statistics were used to determine an extraction efficiency of 43% and a threshold of detection of 210 endospores g-1 sand. This provided a robust means of estimating numbers of endospores in small-volume samples from a natural system. Based on visual assessment of endospore fluorescence, a quantitative method was developed to characterize endospore populations, which were shown to vary according to their host. © 2006 Federation of European Microbiological Societies.