While there is no published record for salinity tolerance in lionfish, their presence in the Loxahatchee River suggests that the species may be able to behaviorally (or physiologically) handle fluctuating estuarine salinities. We believe a salt wedge and associated salinity stratification, common in estuaries (Simpson et al. 1990), may have provided a stable high-salinity benthic refuge for lionfish when surface salinities were reduced. All lionfish were captured at ≥0.5 m in depth, suggesting they may avoid lower-salinity surface waters. Even during a period of extremely high fresh-water inflow associated with a passing tropical storm, we continued to observe lionfish in the Loxahatchee River.
Despite record cold water temperatures during the winter of 2010 (Loxahatchee River District unpubl. data), water temperatures in the section of river inhabited by lionfish remained above the species’ lethal minimum temperature of 10°C (Kimball et al. 2004). As such, wintertime low temperatures appear to be an insufficient barrier to the permanent establishment of lionfish in South Florida and Caribbean estuaries. Additional laboratory experiments are needed to determine physiological tolerances (salinity, temperature) in estuarine lionfish.
"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?' "
Lionfish had been found to live in water with salt levels of 20 parts per thousand. But no one knew that they could live in water salinity below that.
Her research did not stop there. Craig Layman, an ecology professor at North Carolina State University, confirmed Lauren's results. "He credited a sixth-grader for coming up with his idea," Lauren says ecstatically. Layman's findings were published this year in the science journal Environmental Biology of Fishes.
From January 2010 to April 2011, water temperatures in the section of river where lionfish were collected ranged from 12.2 to 34.4°C, and salinities (~1 m below surface) varied from 5.8 to 38.6 ‰. Lower salinities were common during the wet season (June to October), concurrent with the first third of our lionfish sampling period. Extreme low salinities (i.e. less than 10%) were limited both temporally (hours to less than 1 d) and spatially (the upstream datasonde only). During the wet season, the estuary was stratified, with a thin (~0.25 to 0.5 m) layer of turbid freshwater floating over a layer of clear, higher-salinity water.
We believe a salt wedge and associated salinity stratification, common in estuaries (Simpson et al. 1990), may have provided a stable high-salinity ben- thic refuge for lionfish when surface salinities were reduced
"Her dad and Layman should be stopping this kind of misrepresentation."
"It seems to me that she demonstrated that the fish could live without this refuge. That is a significant finding."
"Also - Lauren's lionfish project only got third place at the science fair? I wonder what #1 and #2 prizes went to."
I obviously don't want to do anything to diminish this young lady's curiosity or enthusiasm," he writes. "I'm thrilled that she chose to look at lionfish for her science fair project, but encouraging an outright lie is poor parenting and a horrible way to introduce a youngster to a career in the sciences.
“Lauren got her idea to experimentally test just how far up the river lionfish could live (i.e., what is the lowest salinity lionfish can tolerate) after reading the 2011 paper and hearing the public presentations by Dr. Jud and Dr. Layman. Lauren cited the 2011 Jud et al. paper in her Science Fair report and display — so she adequately provided credit to the authors of the 2011 paper,” Arrington said.
Arrington said that his daughter’s own research spurred Layman and Jud to conduct further experimental studies, to which the father said it was “absolutely awesome to see that Lauren’s findings were solidly verified by the much more thorough and complex experiments conducted by Dr. Jud and Dr. Layman.”
“This is a great science story. Science builds step upon step, study by study, researcher by researcher, and it was awesome to see Lauren actually take part in and contribute to the scientific process,” he added.
Arrington also sent TheBlaze several emails within the last year between Jud and him that he said shows how they were collaborators in his work. In one email, Jud wrote that it was “really cool” that he could include Lauren in the acknowledgements of one of his later research manuscripts.
“Clearly she did not discover lionfish were in the estuary,” [Lauren's dad] said. “I totally agree with Zack’s contention. All of the authors on that 2011 paper discovered lionfish in the estuary. Lauren predicted experimentally how far up the estuary they could invade.”
Arrington said he is well aware that news organizations have latched on to Lauren’s “feel good” story, which has nothing to do with lionfish or salinity levels or even, really, science. He said both he and Lauren have repeatedly mentioned the work of Jud and his former adviser Layman in interviews, but that it’s rarely the focus of media coverage.
Jud, on the other hand, believes the omission has been too consistent for it to have been an accident. “There were so many media stories that completely left my work out of the picture that I find it hard to believe that it is a media problem,” Jud said.
Dustup Over Lionfish Science Fair Project
A former graduate student says he feels slighted by a failure to attribute his contributions to a line of research regarding the salinity tolerances of an invasive species.
Dipshit Reporter: "So no one really knew that lionfish were a threat in rivers like this one?"
Arrington: "No, They didn't. We certainly did not understand that, Lauren's research showed they are."
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