Richard McCourt, PhD

Professor, Department of Biodiversity, Earth & Environmental Science;
Associate Curator of Botany, Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

Richard McCourt

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,

Currently Funded Projects include:

  • 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.


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 Associate 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

  • 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.

Drexel Courses Taught

  • ENVS/BEES 202 The Tree of Life