Ecological and socio-economic impacts of invasive water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes): a review


Amy M. Villamagna, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 100 Cheatham Hall, Blacksburg, VA 24061, U.S.A. E-mail:


1. Water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) is one of the world’s most invasive aquatic plants and is known to cause significant ecological and socio-economic effects.

2. Water hyacinth can alter water clarity and decrease phytoplankton production, dissolved oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorous, heavy metals and concentrations of other contaminants.

3. The effects of water hyacinth on ecological communities appear to be largely nonlinear. Abundance and diversity of aquatic invertebrates generally increase in response to increased habitat heterogeneity and structural complexity provided by water hyacinth but decrease due to decreased phytoplankton (food) availability.

4. Effects of water hyacinth on fish are largely dependent on original community composition and food-web structure. A more diverse and abundant epiphytic invertebrate community may increase fish abundance and diversity, but a decrease in phytoplankton may decrease dissolved oxygen concentrations and planktivorous fish abundance, subsequently affecting higher trophic levels.

5. Little is known about the effects of water hyacinth on waterbird communities; however, increases in macroinvertebrate and fish abundance and diversity suggest a potentially positive interaction with waterbirds when water hyacinth is at moderate density.

6. The socio-economic effects of water hyacinth are dependent on the extent of the invasion, the uses of the impacted waterbody, control methods and the response to control efforts. Ecosystem-level research programmes that simultaneously monitor the effects of water hyacinth on multiple trophic-levels are needed to further our understanding of invasive species.