Steve JenkinsMerriam's Kangaroo Rat

Stephen H. Jenkins

Professor of Biology, Emeritus

University of Nevada, Reno

Blog on Critical Thinking



Tools for Critical Thinking in Biology (Oxford University Press, 2015). This is an introduction to how science works using diverse, contemporary biological examples. What kinds of questions do biologists ask? How can you interpret evidence from observations, data, experiments, comparisons, and correlations? What are models, why are they important, and how can you appreciate them? What about issues involving complex networks of causation – nature and nurture in human behavior, food webs in natural environments? How does peer review contribute to the credibility of science? Why is climate change the fundamental challenge of our time as a problem at the interface of science, economics politics, and ethics? For more insight about the book, please see my recent blog posts, “When politicians talk science” and "Complexities of causation", and my interview with Minda Berbeco at the National Center for Science Education.  The NetLogo predator-prey model discussed in Chapter 6 is available here.

How science works: evaluating evidence in biology and medicine (Oxford University Press, 2004). In this book, I use some examples of questions in biology and medicine to illustrate how scientists develop and test hypotheses. The main topics are Does vitamin C benefit health?, Can dogs identify criminal suspects by smell?, Why are frogs in trouble?, How do animals find stored food?, What causes cancer?, Why do we age?, How does coffee affect health?,and How will climate change affect the spread of disease?One of my major aims was to give nonscientists some tools for thinking more critically about science stories in the news, not so they could reject what they read more authoritatively, but so they could separate the wheat from the chaff more effectively. 

Other Research

Individual Variation in Behavior -- Most of my recent empirical research involved individual variation in the behavior of kangaroo rats. My interest in this was sparked by the discovery that Merriam's kangaroo rats (Dipodomys merriami) exhibit great variation in food-hoarding behavior, from larderhoarding most of the seeds they harvest in their burrows to scatterhoarding most of their food in small, widely dispersed caches throughout their home ranges (in the lab where many of our studies have been done, burrows are artificial next boxes and "home ranges" are sand-filled arenas). Here is a link to my CV, which lists publications on this and other research topics: CV for Stephen H. Jenkins, March 2016.


        Feral Horse Population Model - This is a computer program that simulates the population dynamics of feral horses. It was written under a contract from the National Wild Horse and Burro Program of the Bureau of Land Management and is designed for use in comparing various management strategies for feral horses. The Windows version of the program is available for download by clicking on the link below. To install it, save eqsetup.exe in a suitable directory on your hard drive. Then click on eqsetup.exe to begin the installation process, and follow the instructions which appear on the screen.

        Download Windows Version: eqsetup.exe (This is version 1.40, loaded on 2 April 2002.)


        I taught the following courses regularly in my last years of teaching at UNR. Follow the links to see my syllabi the last time I taught the courses or contact the current instructors for their syllabi.

Biology 125 -- How Science Works: Biological Case Studies: This is an introductory course for nonscience majors focusing on critical thinking.

Biology 314 -- Ecology & Population Biology: This is a core course in ecology for students majoring in Biology and related fields. It includes topics in evolutionary ecology, physiological ecology, population ecology, community ecology, and ecosystem ecology.

Biology 434 -- Mammalogy: This is an introduction to mammalian biology including structure, function, evolution, behavior, ecology, and biogegraphy. There is a lecture component and a laboratory-field component in which students learn characteristics of mammals, identification of local mammals, and field techniques for behavioral and population ecology.

Biology/EECB 750 -- Research Design in Ecology: This is a core course in research design for graduate students in ecology, evolution, coservation biology, and related fields at UNR.

Biology 712Mathematical Modeling in Ecology. This is an elective course for graduate students interested in learning how to interpret published mathematical models and make simple mathematical models of their own using R software.

Do you have a question? Send an email to jenkins at unr dot edu.