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article imageCitizen science success with lionfish research

By Tim Sandle     Jul 26, 2014 in Science
Miami - A sixth grader’s science project on the salinity tolerance of lionfish has been proved spot on. An academic researcher has confirmed the student’s results. The data expands knowledge about an invasive species.
Twelve-year-old Lauren Arrington's science fair project has thrown up some remarkable results, according to NPR. The aim of the project was to test how far into Florida’s freshwaters invasive red lionfish (Pterois volitans) could infiltrate.
Through the project, the sixth grader from Jupiter, Florida, ended up learning that the range of salinities (levels of salt in water) at which the fish can live is wider than previously known. She figured out that the fish could live in nearly fresh water. This ran against scientific convention. Scientists had been examining the fish for year, but they they had always assumed the fish were only found in the ocean.
The red lionfish is a venomous, coral reef fish. Red lionfish are clad in white stripes alternated with red/maroon/brown stripes. It is natively found in the Indo-Pacific region, but has become an invasive problem in the Caribbean Sea, as well as along the East Coast of the U.S. Divers, snorkelers, and anglers, close to the coast of Florida, report increasing encounters with the fish in ocean waters, which are usually about 35 parts per thousand (ppt) salt.
Previously, lionfish were known to live in salinities as low as 20 ppt. But by holding fish in tanks and gradually decreasing the salinity of their water from 35 ppt downward, Arrington determined that the fish could survive salinities as low as 6 ppt.
A few months later, North Carolina State University ecologist Craig Layman heard of Arrington’s findings, he replicated her experiment in his lab and confirmed her results. The study has been reported in the journal Environmental Biology of Fishes ("Broad salinity tolerance in the invasive lionfish Pterois spp. may facilitate estuarine colonization").
More about Lionfish, Citizen science, Saline, Ecology
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