Meet Rebecca Pirtle-Levy
In this year's Graduate Student Research Symposium, first place in Mathematical and Physical Sciences was awarded to Rebecca Pirtle-Levy for her winning poster presentation is entitled, Trophic Ecology of Antarctic Benthic Megafauna: A Lipid Biomarker Approach.
Pirtle-Levy is currently a doctoral candidate in Biological Oceanography at NC State and hopes to graduate in December 2011. She began her college education at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville studying Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. And although the ocean is a long way from her native Cosby, Tennessee, she says that she loves the ocean and was interested in learning more about ". . . this virtually unknown landscape." She chose NC State because she very much wanted to be a part of a group of NC State researchers who were starting a project in the Antarctic -- and the project fit neatly into the scope of her interest and her research.
Currently, her graduate research focuses on finding out more how our actions -- livelihoods, dumping grounds, playgrounds -- affect the oceans. Consequently, Pirtle-Levy chose to work in regions currently experiencing the effects of climate change. Polar environments, such as the Antarctic Peninsula, are beautiful, virtually untouched, fragile, and vulnerable. She says that she ". . . hopes of learning what changes are occurring and if they are preventable."
Pirtle-Levy is concentrating her research efforts on fatty acids which are ". . . present in everything we eat and are transferred without much modification through a food web." For example, fatty acids in tissue matches both predator and prey. In other words, you really are what you eat!
Pirtle-Levy uses fatty acids to understand how and what food sources are utilized by animals living on the sea floor of the Antarctic Peninsula. Although she is still in the early stages of analyzing her data, she says that an interesting trend is that ". . . while the phytoplankton populations seem to shift with the season, the fatty acid signature present in surface sediment and animal tissue remain constant throughout the year." Preliminary results point to a preservation mechanism that maintains a stable food source for these deep-sea animals so that they can feed on all year long.
Probably the most interesting results of her research to date is that the fatty acid signature shows a stability in a region that is also experiencing the most rapid warming. Pirtle-Levy believes that her research will have far-reaching impacts on environmental study: "We have an opportunity to monitor these populations and study how they shift and change with the changing climate."
When not studying fatty acid in the lab -- or in the Antarctic -- Pirtle-Levy enjoys gardening, biking, and knitting. And when not ". . . sifting through stacks of journal articles," she enjoyed reading books just for the fun of it!
Click here to view archived Graduate School stories.