Lionfish populations continue to expand in coastal waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, stretching from New England to Mexico.
The exotic invader from the South Pacific and Indian Ocean was first documented off South Florida in 1985 after someone dumped his or her aquarium in the ocean rather than disposing of the lionfish.
Nothing was done about those fish by state or federal agencies. By the 1990s, lionfish had spread along Florida’s Atlantic coast. In 2000, they showed up off North Carolina. In 2009, lionfish had expanded throughout the Florida Keys. From there they stretched along the Gulf coast to Mexico.
In addition to the United States, the fish, which gobble up native reef species, have spread throughout the Caribbean to Central and South America. The Keys-based Reef Environmental Education Foundation has excellent information about lionfish on its website at www.reef.org/lionfish.
Now, thanks to a science fair project conducted by a 12-year-old girl from Jupiter, Fla., there is new information. It’s not good.
Scientists say that lionfish can also spread into estuaries with extremely low salinity rates. That means lionfish, which have no predators in their new range, could establish a stronghold in bays, lagoons and rivers with just a hint of saltwater.
In Florida, the fish already have been documented in the Loxahatchee River in Jupiter and the Indian River in Sebastian. The thinking was that the fish couldn’t stray too far from the inlets connected to those rivers, but Lauren Arrington discovered otherwise.
Arrington’s sixth-grade project demonstrated that lionfish can survive in water that is almost fresh. Scientists who heard about her project replicated her work and confirmed just how tolerant of low salinity levels lionfish can be.
“Her project was the impetus for us to follow up on the finding and do a more in-depth study,” said Craig Layman, an ecology professor at North Carolina State University, who was researching lionfish in the Loxahatchee River with graduate students from Florida International University.
“We were the first paper that published the salinity of the lionfish, and it was all because of what she had done with her science project.”
For her project, Arrington gradually lowered the salinity in five aquariums with lionfish that she and her father caught in the Indian River. They kept another aquarium at normal ocean salinity level of 35 parts per thousand as a control. Arrington brought down the salinity levels to 6 parts per thousand and the lionfish were fine. She didn’t go any lower for fear of killing the fish, which would have disqualified her project from the science fair.
Layman and his graduate students found that lionfish can tolerate a salinity of 5 parts per thousand, as well as pulses of fresh water. Their findings were published in “Environmental Biology of Fishes.” Arrington received a mention in the research paper’s acknowledgments section.
2 Responses to “More bad news about lionfish”
You left out the recent revelations that her research was stolen, this was already proven in 2011 (and published). Her father was an advisor to a grad student that conducted the original research and then published. Her Father was well aware of the students research (his name appears on the grad student’s paper).
As a result, this sixth grader has taken credit for the work of an actual scientist who worked for years both in the field and in the lab. She’s being lauded for a discovery that she didn’t make, but instead her father plagiarized on her behalf.
It would be nice if you’d do a little research and post what really happened
“Thank you for showing interest in this issue. This story has gathered quite a bit of attention and has been discussed at length in the media and online (see: http://www.npr.org/2014/07/27/335564910/how-our-story-about-a-childs-science-experiment-sparked-controversy and http://absci.fiu.edu/2014/07/just-because-people-keep-asking/ ) In light of these developments we have edited the story to indicate scientists were not shocked by the results, but we maintain that Lauren Arrington made a contribution to lionfish science and did not “plagiarize” her work.
“In fact, in the latter online posting cited, Professor Layman wrote:
“Note … the difference between our 2011 paper (which, again, Zack [Jud] is first author on) and this science fair project. The 2011 paper demonstrates lionfish are found in certain areas of estuaries where salinities could be low. Lauren’s project was a laboratory manipulation that explored this field observation further in a laboratory trial.
“At this point, to my knowledge, there had been no published accounts of this salinity tolerance in lionfish. So Lauren had made a contribution to science. One can argue the magnitude of this finding, but a contribution regardless.
“Thank you for your interest in the blog and this issue.”