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Richard McCourt, PhD

Richard McCourt, PhD

Professor, Department of Biodiversity, Earth & Environmental Science

Curator of Botany, Director of the Center for Systematic Biology and Evolution, ANS
Department of Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science
Phone: 215.299.1139


  • BS, Biology, Lewis and Clark College, 1974
  • MS, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona, 1979
  • PhD, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona, 1983

Research Interests:

Richard McCourt’s research is on the biodiversity, evolution, ecology, and systematics of green algae, specifically a group known as charophyte algae. These green algae are among the closest living algal relatives of land plants and include some well-known algae such as stoneworts and Spirogyra. He is working on reconstructing the phylogeny of these algae-that is, the evolutionary tree of green algae and land plants. A comprehensive phylogeny of green algae will help explain ancient evolutionary events that allowed the descendants of green algae to emerge from their habitats in freshwater ponds and diversify into the hundreds of thousands of species that live on land today.

McCourt has also conducted research on the ecology of intertidal algae in the Gulf of California, Sonora, Mexico. He studied habitat partitioning and phenology (seasonal patterns of growth and reproduction) of sympatric species of Sargassum, large brown seaweeds that occur in huge floating masses in Atlantic gyres, as well as in subtidal and intertidal areas in the subtropics and tropics. He has also worked in historical botany, publishing a number of papers on the Lewis and Clark Herbarium at the Academy, and he co-authored with Earle E. Spamer a Special Publication CD-ROM and a short book on the Lewis and Clark Herbarium.

Additional Websites:

Assembling the Green Algal Tree of Life,
The Phycological Society of America,
Botany Department of the Academy of Natural Sciences,

Current and Recent Research:

  • Molecular barcoding seaweeds of the Cheasapeake. (With Dr. John D. Hall)
  • 2016-2018. Livshultz , T. (co-PI) and R. McCourt (co-PI). $100,200. NSF Advancing Digitization of Biodiversity Collections (ADBC) Program. Digitization TCN: Collaborative: The Microfungi Collections Consortium: A Networked Approach to Digitizing Small Fungi with Large Impacts on the Function and Health of Ecosystems.
  • 2012-2017. $100,280 ANSP portion of total, $694,370. Collaborative Research: Digitization TCN: The Macroalgal Herbarium Consortium: Accessing 150 Years of Specimen Data to Understand Changes in the Marine/Aquatic Environment. (co-PI with K.G. Karol, K. Barringer, T. Livshulz; part of larger Collaborative Award through ADBC program).
  • 2010-2015. ATOL: Collaborative Research: Assembling the Green Algal Tree of Life (GrAToL). Collaborative Award with colleagues at the New York Botanical Garden (Kenneth G. Karol), University of Connecticut (Louise A. Lewis and Paul O. Lewis), University of Alabama (Juan Lopez-Bautista), and University of Maryland (Charles F. Delwiche). Includes several Research Experience for Undergraduates REU) and Research Experience for Teachers (RET) supplements. (DEB 1036478).
  • 2010-2013. Collaborative Research: Phylogeny and Systematics of the Characeae (Charales). Co-PI with Dr. Kenneth Karol, New York Botanical Garden (DEB 1020948).

Post Doctorate Researchers:

  • John D. Hall, PhD. 2011-present, NSF funded, Assembling the Green Algal Tree of Life project ( Hall works on the systematics and phylogeny of conjugating green algae, as well as other algal groups.

Drexel Co-op Students:

  • Emily Qian
  • Dung Ha Seo
  • Lindsey White
  • Lauren Einhorn

Graduate Student:

  • Lincoln Rehm - Lincoln is studying the ecology and evolution of giant clams and their endosymbiotic algae on coral reefs in in Palau.


Rick McCourt, PhD has worked at the Academy since 1997. Before that he was an associate professor at DePaul University in Chicago, where he taught algal biology, aquatic biology, ecology, evolution and introductory biology. McCourt is Curator of Botany at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University in Philadelphia.

Rick McCourt, PhD, is Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Phycological Society of America (, and also serves on the Publications and Financial Advisory Committees of the Botanical Society of America.

Previous to joining BEES, McCourt worked at the National Science Foundation as Program Director in the Division of Biological Infrastructure (Collection in Support of Biological Research, Major Research Instrumentation, Living Stocks Collections), the Division of Environmental Biology (Systematics and Biodiversity Science Cluster), and the Division of Graduate Education (NSF Graduate STEM Fellows in K-12 Education [GK-12], Graduate Research Fellowship Program). He also served on the Interagency Working Group on Scientific Collections and co-authored a report on NSF-supported collections (Skog, J., McCourt, R.M., Corman, J. 2009. The NSF Scientific Collections Survey: A Brief Overview of Findings). He was on the working group for Advancing Digitization of Biological Collections at NSF (ADBC).

Selected Publications:

  • 2018. Hall, J. D., Sheath, R. G., McCourt, R. M. and Stancheva, R. Ochlochaete incrustans sp. nov. a new species of freshwater ulvophycean algae from California, U.S.A. with notes on Friedaea torrenticolaPhycologia  57 (4), 465–476. Published June 21, 2018.
  • 2017. Karol, K. G., Skawinski, P. M., McCourt, R. M., Nault, M. E., Evans, R., Barton, M.E., Berg, M. S., Pereleberg, J., and Hall, J. D. First discovery of the charophycean green alga Lychnothamnus barbatus (Charophyceae) extant in the New World.  American Journal of Botany.  (Published online 7/2/2017; 10.3732/ajb.1700172)
  • 2017. Hall, J. D. and McCourt, R. M.  Zygnematophyta.  In:  Handbook of the Protists 2nd Edition. L. Margulis, J. Archibald, A. Simpson and C. Slamovit. Springer International Publishing. Online: DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-32669-6_41-1 (Published May 1, 2017)
  • 2017. Perez, W., Casanova, M. T., Hall, J.D., McCourt, R.M., and Karol, K. G.  Phylogenetic congruence of ribosomal operon and plastid gene sequences for the Characeae with an emphasis on Tolypella (Characeae, Charophyceae).  Phycologia 56:230-237.
  • 2016. McCourt, R. M., Karol, K. G., Hall, J. D., Casanova, M., T., Grant, M. C.  Charales.  In:  Handbook of the Protists 2nd Edition. L. Margulis, J. Archibald, A. Simpson and C. Slamovit. Springer International Publishing.
  • 2016. McCourt, R. M.  Life Finds a Way: Novel algae in reactor cooling ponds. Journal of Phycology 52:687-688.
  • 2016. McCourt, R. M. Archaeplastida, esp. Viridiplantae and red algae, esp. streptophytes. Embryophyte origins. Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Biology. Online, Article 254. Elsevier Press.
  • 2015. Hall, J. D. and McCourt R. M. Conjugating green algae and desmids. pp. 429-457. In: Freshwater Algae of North America: Classification and Ecology, 2nd Edition. Eds.: Wehr, J. D., Sheath, R. G., and Kociolek, R. P. Elsevier, Amsterdam.
  • 2015. Perez, W., Hall, J.D., McCourt, R.M., and Karol, K. G. Oospore dimensions and morphology in North American Tolypella (Charophyceae, Charophyta). Journal of Phycology. 51:310-320. Article first published online: 11 FEB 2015. DOI:10.1111/jpy.12275
  • 2014. Perez, W., Hall, J. D., McCourt, R. M., and Karol, K. G. Phylogeny of North American Tolypella (Charophyceae, Charophyta) based on plastid DNA sequences with a description of Tolypella ramosissima sp. nov. Published Journal of Phycology. 50:776-789.
  • 2014. Stancheva, R., Hall, Herberger, K., Lewis, McCourt, Sheath, R. G., and Holzinger, A. Phylogenetic position of Zygogonium ericetorum Kütz. (Zygnematophyceae, Charophyta) from a high alpine habitat and ultrastructural charSacterization of unusual aplanospores. Journal of Phycology 50:790-803.
  • 2013. Stancheva, R., J. D. Hall, R. M. McCourt, and R. G. Sheath. 2013. Identity and phylogenetic placement of Spirogyra species (Zygnematophyceae, Charophyta) from California streams and elsewhere1. Journal of Phycology 49:588-607.
  • 2011. Hanlon, M.R., Mock, S., Nuthulapati, P., Gonzales, M.B. and 11 others including McCourt, R.M. A Phylogenetically structured social network. IEEE Gateway Conference Proceedings.
  • 2010. McCourt, R.M. and Spamer, E.S. The Herbarium of Lewis & Clark (sidebar). In: Peck, W.and Stround, G. T. A Glorious Enterprise: The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia and the Making of American Science. University of Pennsylvania Press.
  • 2010. McCourt, R. M. A Brief Natural History of Algae in the Gulf of California. In R. C. Brusca, Ed. Biodiversity and Conservation in the Gulf of California. University of Arizona Press, Tucson, Arizona.
  • 2009. Skog, J., McCourt, R.M., Corman, J. The NSF Scientific Collections Survey: A Brief Overview of Findings. NSF Report
  • 2008. Hall, J. D., Karol, K. G., McCourt, R. M., and Delwiche, C. F. Phylogeny of the conjugating green algae based on chloroplast and mitochondrial nucleotide sequence data. Journal of Phycology 44:467-477.
  • 2006. Hausner G, Olson R, Simon D, Johnson I, Sanders ER, Karol KG, McCourt RM, Zimmerly S. Origin and evolution of the chloroplast trnK (matK) intron: A model for evolution of group II intron RNA structures. Molecular Biology and Evolution. 23(2):380-391.
  • 2005. Drummond CS, Hall J, Karol KG, Delwiche CF, McCourt RM. Phylogeny of Spirogyra and Sirogonium  (Zygnematophyceae) based on rbcL sequence data. Journal of Phycology. 41(5):1055-1064.
  • 2005. Feist, M. Grambast-Fessard, N., Guerlesquin M., Karol, K.G., McCourt, R.M, Lu Hui-nan, Zhang Shan-zen & Wang Qi-fei. Treatise on Invertebrate Palaeontology, Part B, Protista, Vol.1, Charophyta. Geological Society of America & The University of Kansas Press.
  • 2004. McCourt RM, Delwiche CF, Karol KG. Charophyte algae and land plant origins. Trends in Ecology and Evolution. 19(12):661-666.
  • 2004. Lewis LA, McCourt RM. Green algae and the origin of land plants. American Journal of Botany 91(10):1535-1556.2005.
  • 2004. McCourt, R.M. and Spamer, E.E. Jefferson’s Botanists: Lewis & Clark Discover the Plants of the West. Academy of Natural Sciences.
  • 1995. Anton, T. and McCourt, R.M. The New Science Journalists. Ballantine Books.

Science Journalism and News:

Drexel Courses Taught:

  • ENVS/BEES 202 The Tree of Life