A demographic study was conducted in the northern Australian Astrebla grasslands to determine the importance of habitat type in influencing invasion patterns of Acacia nilotica, an exotic leguminous tree from Africa and Asia. One of the repeated patterns observed for A. nilotica is that denser populations are often associated with riparian habitats. Data available on this species do not enable us to determine which of a number of processes has lead to the formation of this pattern. Several explanations were tested for patterns in tree abundance: (i) that more seedlings emerge in wetter habitats; (ii) that mortality is lower in wetter habitats; (iii) that growth rates are faster in wetter habitats; and (iv) that plants are more vigorous (as indicated by leaf cover, flowering intensity and predation rates) over longer periods in wetter habitats. The study was stratified across three habitat types, perennial and ephemeral riparian and non-riparian, which are characteristic of Astrebla grasslands and differentiated by the availability of water. In addition to testing for habitat-linked differentiation in demography, data were also used to test whether seedling emergence, mortality, growth and vigour varied between sites with cattle versus sheep. The data collected indicated that seedling emergence, determined primarily by livestock dispersal, was likely to be the dominant influence on patterns of A. nilotica invasion. Mortality and growth rates were similar in ephemeral riparian and non-riparian habitats, whereas perennial riparian habitats had more rapid growth rates, which may increase the rate of invasion in these areas. Plant vigour was also greater over longer periods in perennial riparian habitats with greater leaf cover, longer flowering season and fewer insect borer holes. Livestock species were found to have little influence on the demography of A. nilotica plants in this study. Very low growth rates and high mortality in A. nilotica populations are likely to lead to net decline in ephemeral riparian and non-riparian habitats in the long term. The importance of episodic recruitment in the maintenance of A. nilotica populations is discussed.