European foredunes are almost exclusively colonised by Ammophila arenaria, and both the natural succession and the die-out of this plant have been linked to populations of plant-parasitic nematodes (PPN). The overarching aim of this study was to investigate top-down control processes of PPN in these natural ecosystems through comparative analyses of the diversity and dynamics of PPN and their microbial enemies. Our specific aims were, first, to identify and quantify PPN microbial enemies in European sand dunes; second, to assess their life history traits, their spatial and temporal variation in these ecosystems, and third, to evaluate their control potential of PPN populations. This was done by seasonal sampling of a range of sites and making observations on both the nematode and the microbial enemy communities in rhizosphere sand. Nine different nematode microbial enemies belonging to different functional groups were detected in European sand dunes. Their high diversity in these low productivity ecosystems could both result from or lead to the lack of dominance of a particular nematode genus. The distribution of microbial enemies was spatially and temporally variable, both among and within sampling sites. Obligate parasites, either with low host-specificity or having the ability to form an environmentally resistant propagule, are favoured in these ecosystems and are more frequent and abundant than facultative parasites. Three microbial enemies correlated, either positively or negatively, with PPN population size: Catenaria spp., Hirsutella rhossiliensis and Pasteuria penetrans. Microbial-enemy supported links in the food-web may be involved in the control of PPN populations through indirect effects. The endospore-forming P. penetrans was the most successful top-down control agent, and was implicated in the direct control of Meloidogyne spp. and indirect facilitation of Pratylenchus spp. Overall, our findings suggest strong and diverse top-down control effects on the nematode community in these natural ecosystems. © 2012 Springer-Verlag.