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Invasive species, local plant communities and invaded ecosystems change over space and time. Quantifying this change may lead to a better understanding of the ecology and the effective management of invasive species. We used data on density of the highly invasive shrub Lantana camara (lantana) for the period 1990–2008 from a 50 ha permanent plot in a seasonally dry tropical forest of Mudumalai in southern India. We used a cumulative link mixed-effects regression approach to model the transition of lantana from one qualitative density state to another as a function of biotic factors such as indicators of competition from local species (lantana itself, perennial grasses, invasive Chromolaena odorata, the native shrub Helicteres isora and basal area of native trees) and abiotic factors such as fire frequency, inter-annual variability of rainfall and relative soil moisture. The density of lantana increased substantially during the study period. Lantana density was negatively associated with the density of H. isora, positively associated with basal area of native trees, but not affected by the presence of grasses or other invasive species. In the absence of fire, lantana density increased with increasing rainfall. When fires occurred, transitions to higher densities occurred at low rainfall values. In drier regions, lantana changed from low to high density as rainfall increased while in wetter regions of the plot, lantana persisted in the dense category irrespective of rainfall. Lantana seems to effectively utilize resources distributed in space and time to its advantage, thus outcompeting local species and maintaining a population that is not yet self-limiting. High-risk areas and years could potentially be identified based on inferences from this study for facilitating management of lantana in tropical dry forests.