Large river floodplains are convenient model systems to test for variation in animal and plant community structure, as they have a variety of habitats and substrates and are generally dynamic systems through the occurrence of flood pulses with varying intensity. South American floodplain systems furthermore have unique types of substrates, in the form of root systems of floating macrophytes. Here, we investigate the variation in ostracod (small, bivalved crustaceans) communities in relation to substrates and related environmental variables. Sampling was effected in 2004 in the alluvial valley of the upper Paraná River, Brazil, in the wet and dry seasons. Five different substrates, including littoral sediment and four macrophyte species root and leaf systems, in four hydrological systems and a variety of habitat types, were sampled. Fifty-four species of Ostracoda were found. Variation partitioning analysis (RDA) showed that ostracod communities significantly differed between different substrates, mainly between the littoral and plants with small root systems (Eichhornia azurea) on the one hand, and plants with large and complex root systems on the other hand (Eichhornia crassipes and Pistia stratiotes). RDA analyses indicated that the pleuston (biotic communities associated with root systems of floating plants) of E. crassipes comprised more non-swimming species than the pleuston of the smaller roots of P. stratiotes, but species-level Kruskal–Wallis analyses could not detect significant differences between both macrophyte species. Also habitat type and hydrological systems contributed to variation amongst ostracod communities, but less so than the factor substrate. Abiotic factors also contributed to variation, but the ranges of all measured water chemistry variables were narrow. This uniformity in abiotic factors, which might be owing to the occurrence of large flooding events, unites all water bodies, even those that are generally separated.