As seen on national TV, TKA 8th grader Lauren Arrington has made quite an impact in the marine science community with her 6th grade science project proving that Florida’s invasive lionfish can survive in low salinity or fresh water environments. Dr. Craig Layman, Chancellor’s Faculty Excellence Fellow at North Carolina State University said that Lauren’s research “was one of the most influential sixth grade science projects ever conducted, demonstrating something that scientists should have done years before. It was the final push that spurred us to just do the study ourselves. The findings have important implications about the potential scope of the lionfish invasion, that is, that estuaries throughout the Caribbean may soon be impacted by the invasion.”
Lauren’s science fair project, “Understanding the Limitations of Lionfish Invasions,” focused on understanding the salinity limit lionfish can tolerate and was recently referenced in the peer-reviewed scientific publication Environmental Biology of Fishes. Lionfish are invasive (non-native) predatory fish that have a big impact on native fish, because they eat large quantities of juvenile native fish. Research has clearly demonstrated the detrimental effect of lionfish on Florida’s reefs, but little was known about how prevalent lionfish are in estuaries such as the Loxahatchee River.
Lauren set up 8 aquaria with a single lionfish in each tank. Lauren monitored the lionfish daily as she slowly lowered the salinity in the aquaria. To everyone’s absolute surprise, Lauren’s lionfish survived with no adverse impacts in nearly freshwater (salinity of 6 parts per thousand, which was very low for a fish that typically lives in the ocean).
After making such an exciting find, Lauren shared her results with Dr. Layman. Then Dr. Layman and Zachary Jud (one of Dr. Layman’s graduate students) decided to take Lauren’s study to the next level. That additional research was printed in the Environmental Biology of Fishes.