McCourt is a professor in the Department of Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science and associate curator of botany at the Academy.
Tatyana Livshultz, assistant curator of botany, studies the evolution of floral form and function. Her work focuses on the Apocynaceae, the milkweed and dogbane family—a group of about 5,000 species of flowering plants. One lineage, the milkweeds, has some of the most structurally complex flowers on Earth with remarkably efficient pollen transfer. Livshultz is using a variety of scientific approaches to understand where, when, why and how milkweed flowers got so efficient.
The Monnina genus comprises about 250 species, growing everywhere from very dry to very humid habitats. These plants have very diverse habits and fruit morphology. Since they serve as a fruit source for bees, ants and birds, Monnina is very important to its ecosystem as well. Though it is recognized that Monnina is ecologically and morphologically diverse, this diversity has not yet been explained. Alina Freire-Fierro, manager of the botany collection at the Academy, has traveled all over Central and South America to study the habits of this genus and is using molecular and morphological data to understand this biodiversity.
The green algae known as charophyte are the closest living relatives of land plants, and Richard McCourt, associate curator of botany, is researching the evolution and systematics of charotype algae to understand the evolutionary relationship of these algae with other algae and land plants. He believes this can be done by discovering the evolutionary events that allowed the descendants of charophyte algae to emerge from their freshwater pond habitats onto land.
John Hall, postdoctoral research associate, also focuses on systematics of green algae, using molecular phylogenetic methods to study evolutionary relationships among charophyte algae. Hall is also interested in studying the biology and evolution of Zygnematophyceae, a species-rich lineage of freshwater organisms. Though thousands of species have been identified as belonging to this group, very few have been thoroughly examined in a molecular phylogenetic framework; since phylogenetic studies shed light on the origin and evolution of growth habit and developmental processes, this is an area of research that deserves intense focus.