The impact of an exotic species in natural systems may be dependent not only on invader attributes but also on characteristics of the invaded community. We examined impacts of the invader bitou bush, Chrysanthemoides monilifera ssp. rotundata , in fore and hind dune communities of coastal New South Wales, Australia. We compared invader impacts on vegetation structure, richness of both native and exotic growth forms and community variability in fore and hind dunes. We found that impacts of bitou invasion were context specific: in fore dune shrublands, functionally distinct graminoid, herb and climber rather than shrub growth forms had significantly reduced species richness following bitou invasion. However, in forested hind dunes, the functionally similar native shrub growth form had significantly reduced species richness following bitou invasion. Density of vegetation structure increased at the shrub level in both fore and hind dune invaded communities compared with non-invaded communities. Fore dune ground-level vegetation density declined at invaded sites compared with non-invaded sites, reflecting significant reductions in herb and graminoid species richness. Hind dune canopy-level vegetation density was reduced at invaded compared with non-invaded sites. Bitou bush invasion also affected fore dune community variability with significant increases in variability of species abundances observed in invaded compared with non-invaded sites. In contrast, variability among all hind dune sites was similar. The results suggest that effects of bitou bush invasion are mediated by the vegetation community. When bitou bush becomes abundant, community structure and functioning may be compromised.