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12-year-old scientist helps prove invasive lionfish can survive in nearly fresh water

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Florida sixth-grader Lauren Arrington's school project ended up in a real scientific journal paper

An adult Lionfish, an invasive species in the US, native to the Indian Ocean and South Pacific
An adult Lionfish, an invasive species in the US, native to the Indian Ocean and South Pacific
James Morris, Jr./NOAA

Lionfish, with their tall, thin fins and red stripes, may look pretty to some observers. But they're highly venomous, and are considered an invasive species by the US government because they devour other native fish that maintain coral reefs, leading to reef destruction. Up until recently, it was thought that lionfish could only survive in water with high levels of salt. It took a sixth-grade student's science project to prove otherwise, as the Sun Sentinel reported.

Back in 2012, then 12-year-old Floridian student Lauren Arrington, the daughter of two biologists, decided that for her school science fair project, she would find out the lowest level of salinity that lionfish could thrive in. Her straightforward experiment entailed catching lionfish from the local lagoon, putting them in separate aquariums, then gradually lowering the levels of salinity in some of the tanks.

Arrington found that even at very low levels of salinity, the lionfish appeared healthy. Her work, which went on to the regional science fair, attracted the attention of adult researchers at universities in Florida and North Carolina. They went on to perform a larger study that corroborated and expanded upon Arrington's results, showing lionfish could survive in low-salinity estuaries that were previously thought to be inhospitable to them. Arrington's work was also cited in a scientific paper the researchers published earlier this year in the journal Environmental Fish Biology. North Carolina State University scientist Craig Layman went so far as to tell the Sun Sentinel that Arrington's project was "one of the most influential sixth-grade science projects ever conducted."

Update: A man claiming to have conducted related lionfish research three years earlier has posted a Facebook screed alleging his name has been left out of the new scientific paper and subsequent media coverage. It's unclear just what the man seeks as recompense, the one-line mention of Arrington in the scientific paper, or the media attention surrounding her young age.