Abstract The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have supported a Co-ordinated Research Project (CRP) on ‘Applying GIS and population genetics for managing livestock insect pests’. This six-year CRP (2008–2013) focused on research aimed at under-pinning the Area-Wide Integrated Pest Management (AW-IPM) of populations of tsetse and screwworm flies, and this introductory paper to the Special Issue integrates the findings of the CRP participants and discusses them in a broader context. The tools and techniques for mapping and modelling the distributions of genetically-characterised populations of tsetse and screwworm flies are increasingly used by researchers and managers for more effective decision-making in AW-IPM programmes, as illustrated by the reports in this Special Issue. Currently, the insect pests are often characterized only by neutral genetic markers suitable for recognizing spatially isolated populations that are sometimes associated with specific environments. Two challenges for those involved in AW-IPM are the standardization of best practice to permit the efficient application of GIS and genetic tools by regional teams, and the need to develop further the mapping and modelling of parasite and pest phenotypes that are epidemiologically important.