1. The issue of freshwater species being threatened by invasion has become central in conservation biology because inland waters exhibit the highest species richness per unit area, but apparently have the highest extinctions rates on the planet.
2. In this article, we evaluated the effects of an exotic, invasive aquatic grass (Urochloa subquadripara– tropical signalgrass) on the diversity and assemblage composition of native macrophytes in four Neotropical water bodies (two reservoirs and two lakes). Species cover was assessed in quadrats, and plant biomass was measured in further quadrats, located in sites where tropical signalgrass dominated (D quadrats) and sites where it was not dominant or entirely absent (ND quadrats). The effects of tropical signalgrass on macrophyte species richness, Shannon diversity and number of macrophyte life forms (a surrogate of functional richness) were assessed through regressions, and composition was assessed with a DCA. The effects of tropical signalgrass biomass on the likelihood of occurrence of specific macrophyte life forms were assessed through logistic regression.
3. Tropical signalgrass had a negative effect on macrophyte richness and Shannon and functional diversity, and also influenced assemblage composition. Emergent, rooted with floating stems and rooted submersed species were negatively affected by tropical signalgrass, while the occurrence of free-floating species was positively affected.
4. Our results suggest that competition with emergent species and reduction of underwater radiation, which reduces the number of submersed species, counteract facilitation of free-floating species, contributing to a decrease in plant diversity. In addition, homogenisation of plant assemblages shows that tropical signalgrass reduces the beta diversity in the macrophyte community.
5. Although our results were obtained at fine spatial scales, they are cause for concern because macrophytes are an important part of freshwater diversity.