Dan Cristol is a Chancellor Professor of Biology and has been the director of the William & Mary's premier merit scholarship program for 12 years, and a faculty member in the biology department for 21 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 Virginia's Shenandoah Valley.
Dan teaches Introductory Biology, Animal Behavior, and Ornithology, and of course has served on many college-wide committees. He also has written a monthly column on birds in the Virginia Gazette for 175 straight months and is occasionally seen or heard in the national media commenting on bird-related conservation issues, for example his Op-Ed piece on white-tailed deer ruining songbird habitat ran in the New York Times in May, 2012. He has been on Nightline, Frontline, NPR, BBC, and most recently was featured in Audubon magazine.
Dan has been married for 27 years to Rebecca Reimers. They have two daughters, both named after birds, who attend Lafayette High School 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, College of William and Mary
2002-2008 Associate Professor, Dept. Biology, College of William and Mary
1996-2002 Assistant Professor, Dept. Biology, College of William and Mary
2006-now Director, Murray Scholars Program, College of William and Mary
1998-2001 Instructor, University of Virginia Mountain Lake Biological Station
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 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 colleague John Swaddle's zebra finch colony, to examine the mechanisms behind mercury's toll on organisms with manipulative approaches to document causation rather than the correlations we found in the field. This approach has been fruitful, identifying novel effects of mercury, demonstrating that mercury was indeed responsible for most of the effects we 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. Four selected papers from the aviary studies on mercury are listed (chronologically):
Varian-Ramos CW, Swaddle JP & Cristol DA 2014 Mercury reduces avian reproductive success and imposes selection: an experimental study with adult- or lifetime-exposure in zebra finch. PLoS ONE, 2014, e95674.
Ou L, Varian-Ramos CW & Cristol, DA 2015 Effect of laying sequence on egg mercury in captive zebra finches: An interpretation considering individual variation. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 34, 1787-1792.
Henry KA, Varian-Ramos CW, Cristol DA & Bradley EL 2015 Oxidative damage in livers of zebra finches dosed with mercury. Ecotoxicology, 24, 520-526.
Seewagen, C. L., Cristol, D. A. & Gerson, A. R. 2016. Mobilization of mercury from lean tissues during simulated migratory fasting in a model songbird. Scientific Reports. 6, 25762. doi:10.1038/srep25762.
Since taking his first and only tenure-track post in 1996, at the College of William & Mary, Dan has obtained continuous 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 88 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, PLoS One, and Environmental Science and Technology. His articles have been cited an average of 17 times each, according to Web of Science, generating an h-index of 22 (22 articles cited at least 22 times).
Since becoming an assistant professor in 1996, he have closely mentored 70 undergraduate students for one or more years, as well as 34 Masters students. Many other students have been in the lab for shorter periods of time but moved on to other fields of study. From these student-focused research projects, 50 papers have been published in peer-reviewed journals with student co-authors; 48 times with undergraduate coauthors and 49 times with Masters student coauthors (many papers had multiple student co-authors). This was with 35 different undergraduates and 28 different Masters students (many students published more than once), thus over half of his undergraduates end up publishing their work, as do nearly all Masters students.
Besides publishing, Dan's lab group regularly attends conferences around the globe, where (since 1996) he have presented 114 papers or posters, 86 of which included student co-authors. 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.
All of Dan's publications, including those on dominance behavior, wetland construction, feather-degrading bacteria, neuroethology of hoarding birds, sparrow migration, and optimal foraging can be downloaded.