Understanding exotic–native plant relationships within the context of landscape-scale environmental factors such as rainfall, topography, disturbance and forest structure, is important for distinguishing the role of invasions in native plant community change. In this study, the relationship between Lantana camara invasion and native forest understorey vegetation was described after accounting for environmental influences. Rainfall, terrain slope, altitude and fire frequency were measured from GIS layers, and tree density, dry above-ground L. camara biomass, and native plant abundance and species richness were measured in nested plots (four 1 × 1-m plots for grass, tree seedlings and L. camara within one 5-m-radius plot for tree saplings and herbs and shrubs within one 10-m-radius plot for trees) at 80 locations distributed across Bandipur Tiger Reserve, a tropical deciduous forest in southern India. Relationships between environmental factors and L. camara abundance were described using a multiple regression. Further, the role of L. camara abundance in explaining residual variation in native vegetation, after accounting for environmental influences, was described using linear models. Lantana camara abundance decreased with increasing tree density, supporting the notion that it thrives in disturbed forest with fewer trees. Whereas native tree seedling and herb and shrub density showed no relationship to L. camara abundance, both tree sapling density and grass volume decreased under L. camara biomass exceeding 2 kg m−2. These data suggest that, by association with grass decline and decreased recruitment of tree saplings, L. camara may be linked to the gradual transition of these tropical deciduous forests into exotic-dominated shrubland, and overall native biodiversity loss.