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Startling lionfish discovery made in 6th grader’s science project [Updated]

Winning first place is all well and good in the sixth grade science fair, but when your discovery shocks an entire field of researchers, you’ve reached a whole new level of achievement.

Scientists have been frantically researching lionfish, the scourge of the Atlantic ecosystem, for years now, so it’s particularly shocking that twelve-year-old Lauren Arrington was the first to realize the invasive species could survive in a nearly freshwater habitat, a big problem in Florida, where Arrington lives and there are no natural predators.

“Scientists were doing plenty of tests on them, but they just always assumed they were in the ocean,” Lauren, now 13, tells NPR’s Kelly McEvers. “So I was like, ‘Well, hey guys, what about the river?’ “

Her findings were confirmed by North Carolina State’s Craig Layman, and published in the journal Environmental Biology of Fishes.

Hope she at least got ice cream for that project.


Oh well, never let it be said that sixth-grade science projects aren’t plagued with the same issues as science at the higher levels.

It appears that Arrington’s work was already done, and by none other than the grad student who did the bulk of the research for a paper on which her father’s name was listed but for which he did little, if any, of the work.

According to Fischer Aitchtuoh of the Central Florida Aquarium Society, and subsequently reported at io9:

D. Albrey Arrington, the father of Lauren Arrington, appears as an author on this paper released June 2011. He had absolutely nothing to do with the research however, he was clearly aware that lionfish were found in low salinity parts of the estuary years before the science fair project was carried out. By this time, Jud had planned on running salinity tolerance trials for quite a while before Arrington executed her project, invalidating the premise that any related research had been ultimately replicated or expanded upon by ecologists. Jud’s work further revealed wild lionfish in salinities in as low as 8 ppt, just a hair above the young girls 6 ppt “breakthrough” in captivity.

subsequent paper that Jud published in 2012 that documented movement patterns of lionfish within the estuary. The “discovery” was made years before the science fair project was carried out. Arrington’s project lowered the salinity bar from 8 ppt (Jud’s previous finding, which Arrington knew about) to 6 ppt. Jud subsequently demonstrated that lionfish could survive in salinities as low as 5 ppt for extended periods of time, and as low as 1 ppt for brief periods (in the wild, around low tide during the wet season).

Zack Jud, the student in question, emphasizes that the last thing he wants is to discourage a young girl pursuing science or demonize her in any way, but credit should go where credit is due.

Maybe Zack and Lauren should have a talk over that ice cream.

Full story at NPR. Update information at io9 and the Central Florida Aquarium Society.

Startling fish discoveries.

Photo credit: Paula Whitfield NOAA, Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research DOCNational Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration., Graphics credit: Canva



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  • Keith

    This is what happen when we feel so smart and important. Then a child show you. Good for you girl. You sure showed them.

  • Jason

    Goes to show you that it is all mankind that holds the answers to the mysteries. It is never one group of men, no matter how esteemed they are.

  • MsLavonda

    And a child shall lead them

  • perry

    Ok her father is a fish ecologist who really made the discovery, I home she got a prize or something,

  • There is some evidence that scientist named Zack Jud made this discovery a few years earlier. I am not positive of the truth, but it is worth checking out.

  • Ken

    12 years-old or not, now someone finds out that these alien invaders can live in fresh water as well as salt water ???? !!!! ????! And they have no natural enemies here?!?
    Idiot Humans importing invaders and then turning them loose out of “compassion” for their “pets!” Now we have poisonous, razor-toothed fish and giant man-eating constrictor snakes and vicious ankle-biting, land-roving snakefish and monster poison toads and billions of inch-long, voracious, jungle termites with acid saliva that can eat through concrete, etc., etc. et cetera!

    What next???!!!?

    The only thing left to do is import enough people from half way around the world who enjoy eating these things.

  • ralph

    More to think about. I am sure the salty water has other chemicals missing or present form off the East coast of U.S.A. and in the Caribbean. So, what else is the Lionfish tolerant of…

  • many types of salt-water fish can survive and thrive in “brackish” water. I’ve seen a home fish tank that had both fresh and salt water fish thriving in it. Never saw anything like it before and I work for an aquarium cleaning service!

  • James Wetterer
  • N. Nicholas

    Wait, this turns out to be plagiarism driven by a credit stealing, egotistical, PhD father and then you still leave this original story up, why? It’s not like this is the printed press, this is a living data exchange. Shame on you for not pulling this trash!

  • jenneva

    boooooooo to jud.

  • Logan

    Glad the girl is pursuing science, but a national roadshow based on plagiarism is not to be celebrated. This isn’t her project. Shame on the parents.