Peacock bass Cichla ocellaris is a piscivorous cichlid native from the Amazon and Orinoco river basins, which has been broadly introduced into tropical areas worldwide, leading to several adverse local effects.
However, predictors of its invasibility and assessments of its ecological impacts over large spatial scales are still lacking. The importance of different environmental factors in explaining the relative abundance of peacock bass in 62 sites across South America (30 native and 32 invaded systems) was investigated. The impacts of peacock bass on fish assemblages were appraised, using years since introduction as a proxy of its cumulative impacts and modern statistical techniques, such as random forests, and negative binomial regression models. Random forests highlighted maximum depth, introduced status, and ecosystem type as the best predictors of the peacock bass relative abundance, which ranged 0.01–26.0%, increased with maximum depth, was highest in invaded reservoirs but decreased with depth in native riverine populations. Other factors such as climate or limnological features were less important in explaining C. ocellaris abundance, which did not vary markedly with years since introduction. Introduction year was not related to latitude but varied among hydrographic regions, indicating invasion pathways not linked to geographical proximity. Variation partitioning of different fish assemblage metrics showed that hydrographic region followed by limnological and reservoir features accounted for most explained variation, indicating a strong historical and local influence. Introduction time accounted for 5–8% of variation in species composition and diversity, independently of limnological features. Our results suggest that the ecological effects of introduced C. ocellaris on native fish fauna are likely but small compared to large geographical and environmental gradients. Although experiments and before-after designs are probably more sensitive in detecting the ecological impacts of invasive species, large-scale compilations of available data are more feasible and can provide invaluable information, especially for large-sized invaders that are often illegally introduced.