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13-year-old makes breakthrough in lionfish research
Lauren Arrington's sixth-grade science fair project found that lionfish, an invasive species, are more dangerous to Florida's ecosystems than previously thought.
Thu, Aug 14, 2014 at 08:00 AM
Lionfish can survive in a variety of circumstances, even in water that doesn't have much salinity. (Photo: LauraD/Shutterstock)
Lauren Arrington may have changed the future of Florida's marine ecology research — and it's all thanks to her sixth-grade science experiment
Lauren decided to study lionfish
, an invasive species that is wreaking havoc in Florida's waters. Their enormous appetite and lack of any natural predators in the area has led to an exploding population that scientists believe presents a real danger to Florida's marine ecosystems.
Lauren was introduced to the study of lionfish through her father, a marine biologist who co-authored a study on the survival of lionfish
in estuary systems at the mouth of large rivers. Up to that point, scientists had assumed that lionfish destruction would be limited to the saltwater environment of the ocean. But the research that Lauren's father was involved in showed that the invaders could also live in brackish — or slightly salty — water at the mouths of rivers. Lauren decided to take that research one step further to see if lionfish could live in freshwater ecosystems as well.
With her father's help, the sixth-grader set up six large tanks, each with a different lionfish inside. One significant note of her study was that according to the rules of her science fair
, none of the fish could die during the experiment. So Lauren had to be careful when adjusting the salinity of the water. For the next eight days, Lauren lowered the salinity
in each tank incrementally, except for one that was left alone as a control. t the end of the study period, Lauren's research confirmed that lionfish can live in water with salinity as low as six parts per thousand, which is very close to the level found in freshwater.
Her work not only earned her third place at the science far, it also gave her a spot in the history books of science. Lauren's research is mentioned in the acknowledgements of a study published this year in the Environmental Biology of Fishes about the ability of lionfish to survive in low-salinity environments.
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