Women In Science: Zanethia Barnett

The Women in Science series features women scientists from across the Southern Research Station (SRS) – their education, career paths, challenges, achievements, and inspirations.

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Barnett holds an M.S. in Interdisciplinary Ecology from the University of Florida and is a PhD candidate at the University of Mississippi. Photo courtesy of Jaron Jones, University of Florida.

Meet Zanethia Barnett, a natural resource specialist from the Center for Bottomland Hardwoods Research in Oxford, Mississippi. Specializing in freshwater fauna and aquatic ecosystems, Barnett conducts her research in the lakes, streams, and coastal waters of the southeastern US.

How did she become interested in studying the creatures of the deep? Barnett attributes her love of nature to the wildlife and wilderness of her childhood.

She interned with a veterinarian, etymologist, economist, and ecologist. Finally, she became interested in aquatic systems while pursuing her master’s degree in Interdisciplinary Ecology at the University of Florida. “I was eager to better understand the dynamic nature of those systems,” says Barnett.

Barnett researches the relationships between fish, crayfish, and their environment, as well as the effect of disturbances on those relationships — as well as working to fill gaps in our understanding of the life history of several aquatic species.

For example, she studied the habitat use and life history of the vernal crayfish, a species which lives in seasonal pools during late winter and early spring. They burrow into the ground when those pools dry up. Barnett and her colleagues collected extensive data about the crayfishes and their habitat. Their observations about reproductive anatomy suggested that the study population might be a distinct species. They also made the first reported estimate of fecundity for that species.

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Barnett diving in the Blue Grotto Cavern in Williston, Florida. Photo by Kevin Leftwich, USFS.

Conducting research underwater means Barnett gets to SCUBA dive. Other methods she uses to sample include setting traps, electrofishing, and seining. This leads to some incredible animal encounters. Barnett describes visiting a lake in Spain where crayfish were the dominant predators and swam about freely in the open: “I had never seen so many crayfish at once in any natural environment before.”

Barnett has faced issues common to women in science. She tends to be the only women, only African American, and the youngest person in the room. Because of that, she often feels like she has to work harder than others to prove herself equally knowledgeable and that, “there is often a feeling of not being able to truly relate to anyone in the room. But, because of this I can often provide a unique perspective to discussions.”

Communicating science and engaging the public are important to Barnett. She enjoys taking students into the lab and field, presenting to groups, and conveying information she has learned.

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Barnett scouts sites on Little Bear Creek in Franklin County, Alabama. Photo by Gordon McWhirter, USFS.

Among the women who have inspired Barnett is her mother, Rose Choice. “My mom is a social worker, and building relationships and assisting the less fortunate is her passion,” says Barnett. “Through her work I have learned that simply doing science is not enough but being able to connect people to your science and using science to help better the lives of others is essential.”

Barnett would advise aspiring scientists to volunteer and test out new fields. It was those sorts of unexpected experiences that led her to her current passion.

Was it challenging to get her scuba certification? Does she ever have unexpected company while collecting crayfish? Visit Women in Science to learn more about Zanethia Barnett and other SRS scientists.

For more information, email Remi Shaull-Thompson at remics@princeton.edu.

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