Two similar, sandy loam soils from the same geographical region but with distinct nematode communities were used to determine the extent to which water, soil and inoculum factors affected nematode community structure. Treatments were established in pots containing a middle layer of frozen defaunated soil, sandwiched between an inoculum that was either fresh soil from the same site ('self') or a mixture of soils to give a more diverse inoculum ('rnixed'). During year 2, half the pots were watered at regular intervals while the other half received only rainfall. For individual nematode taxa, soil layer and watering regime were the main factors discriminating between treatments, while initial inoculum had a larger influence than soil type. Acrobeloides was most affected by the watering regime, being more abundant under variable water conditions, whereas Hoplolaimidae, Longidorus and Pratylenchus were more abundant in deeper soil layers in contrast to other taxa. For the community as a whole, when analysed by principal component analysis, soil factors clearly influenced composition and also indicated that the biological properties of the soils were important.