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Richard "Rick" McCourt, professor, Drexel University Department of Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science

Richard M. McCourt, PhD

Curator of Botany, Director of the Center for Systematic Biology and Evolution, Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University
Department of Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science
Office: Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel, Botany Department
Phone: 215.299.1139

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  • PhD, University of Arizona, Tucson; Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
  • MS, University of Arizona, Tucson; Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
  • BA, summa cum laude, Lewis & Clark College, Portland, Oregon; Biological Sciences

Curriculum Vitae:

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Research Interests:

  • Molecular systematics
  • Algae
  • Evolution
  • Taxonomy
  • Algal ecology


Dr. Rick McCourt has been a botany curator at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University since 1996 and a professor in the Biodiversity, Earth, and Environmental Science (BEES) Department since its founding at Drexel University in 2012.

Professor McCourt's research program targets the biodiversity, evolution, ecology, and systematics of green algae, specifically green algae that are among the closest living algal relatives of land plants. In addition, he curates the plant collection of the Lewis and Clark expedition and has written about the history of the botanical results from their journey. Rick's contributions are widely recognized; he is the author and co-author of over a hundred highly cited articles published in prominent, peer-reviewed scientific journals.

McCourt worked for six years at the National Science Foundation as a program director in the Divisions of Biological Science and Education and Human Resources. He also served as president and chair of the Board of Trustees for the Phycological Society of America and other environmental organizations. Before coming to Drexel, Rick was a faculty member at DePaul University in Chicago; he taught evolutionary biology and ecology courses and mentored graduate, undergraduate, and co-op students in his laboratory.

Rick writes for popular magazines such as Discover and Outside; he has also co-edited the book The New Science Journalists with Ted Anton, a professor of English at DePaul University.

Earlier in his career, Rick worked as a science journalist and reported on science, sports, and arts at National Public Radio. In 1985 he won the AAAS Westinghouse Award for Science Journalism in Radio for a series on aquaculture broadcast on NPR.

Selected Publications:

2021.  Rehm, Lincoln, Lincy L. Marino, Randa Jonathan, Amanda L. Holt, Richard M. McCourt, and Alison M. Sweeney.

2021. “Population Structure of Giant Clams (Subfamily: Tridacninae) across Palau: Implications for Conservation.” Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, 2021, pp. 1-16. December. (Lincoln Rehm is a BEES graduate student working on giant clams in his native Palau."

2021.  Balasubramanian, R. and McCourt, R. M. Volvox barberi (Chlorophyceae) actively forms two-dimensional flocks in culture.  Journal of Phycology  First published: 01 February 2021. (Ravi Balasubramanian was a high school student who worked on Volvox for a project that resulted in this paper while he was a freshman at Yale.)

2020.  McCourt, R. M. and J. Iselin.  The Other 1940 Expedition to the Sea of Cortez.  Journal of the Southwest 62 (2):467-489. (Published Sept. 28, 2020) (This paper is on an expedition of E. Yale Dawson to the Sea of Cortez the same year as the famous Steinbeck and Ricketts cruise.)

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 torrenticola.  Phycologia  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) (The discovery of this unusual species in North America is the first record of it in the western hemisphere since the Cretaceous.)

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.   (John Hall is one of the world's premier experts on desmids and other conjugating green algae and spearheaded this important chapter on the group, which is possibly the nearest green algal relative of land plants.)

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.  

2009.  Skog, J., McCourt, R.M., Corman, J.  The NSF Scientific Collections Survey: A Brief Overview of Findings.  NSF Report (This paper laid out a rationale for the establishment of the NSF program, Advancing Digitization of Biological Collections, or ADBC.)

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. (This was the first broad sampling of conjugating green algae using molecular systematic methods. See below, McCourt et al. 2000.)

2005.  Adl SM, Simpson A. G. B., Farmer M. A., Andersen R. A., Anderson O. R., Barta J. R., Bowser S. S., Brugerolle G., Fensome R. A., Fredericq S., James T. Y., Karpov S., Kugrens P., Krug J., Lane C. E., Lewis L. A., Lodge J., Lynn D. H., Mann D. G., McCourt R. M., Mendoza L., Moestrup Ø., Mozley-Standridge S. E., Nerad T. A., Shearer C. A., Smirnov A. V., Spiegel F. W., Taylor M. F. J. R.  The new higher-level classification of eukaryotes with emphasis on the taxonomy of protists. Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology. 52(5):399-451. (Sina Adl led the group to publish this widely cited paper on the classification of eukaryotic protists."

2004.  McCourt RM, Delwiche CF, Karol KG. Charophyte algae and land plant origins. Trends in Ecology and Evolution. 19(12):661-666. 

2004.  McCourt, R. M. and Spamer, E. E.  On the paper trail in the Lewis & Clark Herbarium. Bartonia 62:1-24. 

2004.  Lewis LA, McCourt RM. Green algae and the origin of land plants. American Journal of Botany 91(10):1535-1556.2005.  (This paper was one of the top 5 most widely read and cited papers in the history of the American Journal of Botany.)

2002.  Spamer, E. E., and McCourt, R. M.  2002.  The Lewis and Clark Herbarium, Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia (PH-LC): Digital imagery study set.  Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, Special Publication 19, CD-ROM. 

2002. Spamer, E. E., and McCourt, R. M.  2002.  The Lewis and Clark Herbarium of     the Academy of Natural Sciences.  Part 1.  History.  Notulae Naturae, no. 475, 46 pp. 

2002. Teece, M. A., Fogel, M. L., Tuross, N., McCourt, R. M., and Spamer, E. E.  2002.  The Lewis and Clark Herbarium of the Academy of Natural Sciences.  Part 3.  Modern environmental applications of a historic nineteenth century botanical collection.  Notulae Naturae, no. 477, 20 pp. (Modern research uses on two-century-old plants collected by Lewis and Clark.)

2001.  Karol, K. G., McCourt, R. M., Cimino, M. T., Delwiche, C. F. The closest living relatives of land plants. Science 294: 2351-2353. 

2000.  McCourt, R. M., Karol, K. G., Bell, J., Helm-Bychowski, K., Grajewska, A., Wojciechowski, M. F., and Hoshaw, R. W.  Phylogeny of the conjugating green algae (Zygnemophyceae: Desmidiales, Zygnematales) based on rbcL sequences.  Journal of Phycology 36:747-758.