Plant invasions can cause severe degradation of natural areas. The ability of an ecosystem to recover autogenically from degradation following weed control is in part determined by the type and magnitude of changes to both biotic and abiotic processes caused by the invasion and how these interact with structural and functional components of the ecosystem. Recently, a number of conceptual frameworks have been proposed to describe the dynamics of degradation and regeneration in degraded ecosystems. We assessed the utility of one of these frameworks in describing the degradation and restoration potential of Australia's tropical savannas following exotic grass invasion. First, we identified easily measured structural characteristics of putative states. We found that a continuous cover of the exotic grasses Gamba grass (Andropogon gayanus Kunth.) and Perennial mission grass (Pennisetum polystachion (L.) Schult.) under an intact tree canopy was a common state with an understorey characterized by reduced species richness and abundance and a change in the relative contribution of functional groups. Further degradation led to a state where the canopy was severely reduced and the impacts on the understorey were more severe. In both states, the seed bank was substantially less degraded than the understorey vegetation. Guided by the framework, we combined our study with other studies to construct a conceptual model for degradation in exotic grass-invaded savannas. © 2008 Society for Ecological Restoration International.