With her sixth-grade science project, Lauren Arrington, a student at the King’s Academy, spurred important scientific research of invasive lionfish. Dr. Craig Layman, chancellor’s faculty excellence fellow at North Carolina State University, said that Arrington’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,” Layman sad. “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.”
Arrington’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. Arrington, now a seventh-grader, conducted preliminary laboratory experiments during research for her sixth-grade science fair project.
Layman and his graduate students from Florida International University were researching lionfish in the Loxahatchee River, and they found lionfish farther up river than anyone expected. Arrington was familiar with Layman’s research and conducted a controlled experiment at the Jupiter River Center. Based on insight provided by Layman, she set up eight aquaria with a single lionfish in each tank and monitored the lionfish daily as she slowly lowered the salinity. To everyone’s surprise, Arrington’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 Layman. Then Layman and graduate student Zachary Jud decided to take Arrington’s study to the next level. That additional research was printed in the Environmental Biology of Fishes.
The King’s Academy is a nationally recognized private Christian school serving 1,200 students from preschool through 12th grade. Visit www.tka.net for info.
ABOVE: Lauren Arrington with her lionfish project.