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Dan Cristol's CV

Dan Cristol is a Chancellor Professor of Biology and has been the director of the William & Mary's premier merit scholarship program for 18 years, and a faculty member in the biology department for 27 years.  Before that he was a research fellow or student at University of California-Davis, Oxford University, Indiana University (PhD 1993), and Cornell University (BS 1985). He specializes in studying bird ecology, especially migration, ecotoxicology and behavior, and most recently is focused intensely on the severe mercury pollution in birds.

Dan teaches Animal Behavior, Human-Wildlife Conflicts in the Anthropocene (“Florida field class”) Ornithology, several pre-med experiential learning courses, and has served on many college-wide committees. He also has written a monthly column on birds in the Virginia Gazette for 253 straight months and is occasionally seen or heard in the national media commenting on bird-related conservation issues. He has been featured on on Nightline, Frontline, NPR, BBC, and in the New York Times and Audubon magazine. 

Dan has two daughters, both named after birds, who attended University of Virginia and William & Mary.


1985                B.S. Natural Resources, Cornell University

1993                Ph.D. Biology, Indiana University

1994                NSF-NATO Postdoctoral Fellow, Oxford University

1995                Postdoctoral Fellow, NSF Research Training Grant in Animal Behavior,
                         University of California-Davis


2008-now        Professor, tenured, Dept. Biology, William & Mary

2019-2022    Director of Undergraduate Research, William & Mary

2002-2008       Associate Professor, Dept. Biology, William & Mary

1996-2002       Assistant Professor, Dept. Biology, William & Mary

2006-now        Director, 1693 Scholars Program, William & Mary


2005-now       Chancellor Professor of Biology

2011                Mitchell A. Byrd Award for Scientific Achievement (VA Society of Ornithology)

2008                Plumeri Faculty Excellence Award (William & Mary)

2007                Outstanding Faculty Award (SCHEV)

2005                M. S. Curtis Distinguished Associate Professorship of Biology (William & Mary)

2004                Phi Beta Kappa Faculty Award for Advancement of Scholarship

2003                Alumni Fellowship Teaching Award (William & Mary)

Dan is an unconventional ecotoxicologist trained in both behavioral ecology and avian biology. In 2005, he documented that mercury pollution from the Shenandoah River watershed was crossing ecosystem boundaries, entering the terrestrial food web, and biomagnifying through invertebrates, especially spiders, into songbirds. This discovery was published in Science (2008, v.320, p. 335), with 7 student co-authors. This success at documenting something novel was the result of an interdisciplinary approach - bringing ecosystem ecology and behavior together with toxicology. For six more years Dan and his students continued to document the fitness consequences of this food web mercury throughout the floodplain of the Shenandoah watershed, publishing 25 more papers on the contaminant's effects on reproductive output, endocrinology, singing behavior, immune responsiveness, survivorship and other aspects of fitness.

He then moved the study into the lab, using William & Mary's zebra finch colony, to examine the mechanisms behind mercury's toll on organisms with manipulative approaches to document causation rather than the correlations found in the field. This approach was fruitful, identifying novel effects of mercury, demonstrating that mercury was indeed responsible for most of the effects found in the field, and providing dose-response results useful for applied environmental health applications. Dosing a model songbird species in captivity has also opened up new approaches never before demonstrated clearly with contaminants, such as rapid evolution of resistance after one generation of mercury exposure, and marked genetic variation in susceptibility. Dan and his students published 25 more papers from this work.

Since taking his first and only tenure-track post in 1996 at William & Mary, Dan has obtained external funding for his avian ecology research, including over $1.5 million for the recent research on mercury and songbirds. His first award was an NSF Career grant.

Dan has published 100 peer-reviewed articles in a wide variety of fields, including microbiology, behavior, neuroscience, ecology, wildlife management, conservation and toxicology. Of these, most have been in the upper echelon of journals in each field, and some have been in the most prestigious journals, such as Science, Nature, and Environmental Science and Technology. His articles have been cited an average of 75 times each, according to Google Scholar, generating an h-index of 39 (i.e., 39 articles cited at least 39 times).

Since becoming an assistant professor in 1996, he has closely mentored ~150 undergraduate students for one or more years, as well as 40+ Masters students. Many other students have been in the lab for shorter periods of time but moved on to other fields of study. Besides publishing, Dan's lab group regularly attends conferences around the globe. This strong record of publication and conference dissemination from a lab in a biology department that does not have PhD students demonstrates that Dan's research program on mercury pollution produces important results while at the same time training large numbers of future scientists and practitioners in cutting-edge science with direct impact on human and environmental health questions.