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Sixth-Grader's Lionfish Science Project Stuns Conservation Experts

A sixth-grader's project for her school's science fair made waves among academics studying the invasive lionfish that infest many U.S. waters. These colorful fish, equipped with venomous spines, can be found in many parts of the ocean, but recently have been expanding their territory and displacing native species. Lauren Arrington, a science-minded 12-year-old from Jupiter, Florida, was interested in the species and wanted to find out just how far they might travel into less-salty waters like river mouths.

Her father, with a Ph.D in fish ecology, thought the lionfish would stand a salinity of no less than 12 parts per 1000, about a third as salty as ocean water. But Lauren's experiment gradually took it to half of that, 6 parts per 1000, and the fish still thrived. She couldn't go further, however, for fear of harming her captive creatures and disqualifying her project. This is major news for conservationists, since it suggests even more waters could be invaded by the aggressive species. North Carolina State University ecology professor Craig Layman confirmed and extended the findings in a new study — and Lauren got a shout-out in the acknowledgments section.

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— Devin Coldewey, NBC News