While both the ancient Greeks and Romans knew of algae, and the ancient Chinese even cultivated certain varieties as food, the scientific study of algae began in the late 18th century with the description and naming of Fucus maximus (now Ecklonia maxima) in 1757 by Pehr Osbeck. This was followed by the descriptive work of scholars such as Dawson Turner and Carl Adolph Agardh, but it wasn't until later in the 19th century that efforts were made by J.V. Lamouroux and William Henry Harvey to create significant groupings within the algae. Harvey has been called "the father of modern phycology" in part for his division of the algae into four major divisions based upon their pigmentation.
It was in the late 19th and early 20th century, that phycology became a recognized field of its own. Men such as Friedrich Traugott Kützing continued the descriptive work. In Japan, beginning in 1889, K. Okamura not only provided detailed descriptions of Japanese coastal algae, he also provided comprehensive analysis of their distribution. Although R. K. Greville published his Algae Britannicae as early as 1830, it was not until 1902 with the publication of A Catalogue of the British Marine Algae by Edward Arthur Lionel Batters that the systematic correlation of records, extensive distribution mapping and the development of identification keys began in earnest.
As early as 1803 Jean Pierre Étienne Vaucher had published on the isogamy (sexual conjugation) in the algae, but it was in the early 20th century that reproduction and development began to be extensively studied. The 1935 and 1945 comprehensive volumes of Felix Eugen Fritsch consolidated what was then known about the morphology and reproduction of the algae. This was followed in the 1950s by the development of area checklists, led by Mary W. Parke with her 1931 Manx Algae and followed in 1953 by her "A preliminary check-list of British marine algae" Although Lily Newton's 1931 Handbook provided the first identification key for the algae of the British Isles, it wasn't until the 1960s that the development of such keys became routine. The 1980s with the new emphasis on ecology saw increased study of algal communities, and the place of algae in larger plant communities, and provided an additional tool for explaining geographical variation.
The continent with the richest diversity of seaweeds is Australia, which has 2,000 species.
Elsie Conway (née) Phillips) (1902–1992) Visited University of British Columbia in 1969–1970 and researched there in 1972–1974. President of the British Phycological Society 1965–1967. Retired in 1969.
^Batters, Edward Arthur Lionel (1902) A catalogue of the British Marine Algae being a list of all the species of seaweeds known to occur on the shores of the British Islands, with the localities where they are found Newman, London, OCLC600805992, published as a supplement to Journal of Botany, British and Foreign
^Newton, Lily (1931) A Handbook of the British Seaweeds British Museum, London
^Walter, Heinrich and Breckle, Siegmar-Walter (1983) Ökologie der Erde: : Geo-Biosphäre: Band 1, Ökologische Grundlagen in globaler Sicht (Ecology of the Earth: the geobiosphere: Volume 1, Ecological principles in a global perspective) Fischer, Stuttgart, Germany, ISBN 3-437-20297-9; in German
^Stevenson, R. Jan; Bothwell, Max L. and Lowe, Rex L. (1996) Algal ecology: freshwater benthic ecosystems Academic Press, San Diego, California, page 23, ISBN 0-12-668450-2
^Figueiras, F. G.; Picher, G. C. and Estrada, M. (2008) "Chapter 10: Harmful Algal Bloom Dynamics in Relation to Physical Processes" page 130In Granéli, E. and Turner, J. T. (2008) Ecology of Harmful Algae Springer, Berlin, pp. 127–138, ISBN 3-540-74009-0
^"Marine algae". Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust. Retrieved 21 September 2014.