Photo of Stephen Jenkins in a field of flowers.

Stephen H. Jenkins, Ph.D.

Biology M.S. Graduate Director, Professor Emeritus


I retired in 2011 after 37 years of teaching at UNR, long enough to have had several sets of parents and their children as students. I studied the behavior and ecology of mammals such as beavers, ground squirrels, wild horses, and kangaroo rats -- seed-eating rodents that are highly adapted to the Great Basin and other deserts of western North America. In my final years of doing lab and field research, I studied the evolution of personalities in kangaroo rats, asking why some are shy and others are bold and why males seem to have more variable personalities than females.

Research interests

Like most academics, I published technical papers for specialists in professional journals, but I gradually became convinced of the need for scientists to communicate with a more diverse audience. One of my opportunities to do this involved wild horses, which have become a flashpoint of controversy in the western U.S. In the 1990s, I developed a computer model that has been used ever since by the Bureau of Land Management to plan population control measures for horses. This model influences how BLM managers interact with advocates for and against controlling horse populations on public lands. An updated version of the model is under development by a team of scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey.

I've also published two books to help nonscientists learn about science: "How science works: Evaluating evidence in biology and medicine" in 2004 and "Tools for critical thinking in biology" in 2015. These books use contemporary examples to illustrate key aspects of the process of science for general readers. In retirement, I plan to continue teaching about tools for critical thinking through formal and informal writing and talking with individuals and groups with diverse backgrounds and interests.

Courses taught

In the last several years before my retirement in 2011, I taught How Science Works: Biological Case Studies (a core course for non-science majors), Ecology and Population Biology (a core course for biology majors, Mammalogy (an upper-division course for biology majors), and Research Design in Ecology (a core course for graduate students).


  • A.B., Biology, Dartmouth College, 1968
  • Ph.D., Biology, Harvard University, 1975

Selected publications

  • Jenkins, S. H. 2015. Tools for critical thinking in biology. Oxford University Press, New York, xiv + 324 pages.
  • Jenkins, S. H. 2004. How science works: Evaluating evidence in biology and medicine. Oxford University Press, New York, x + 227 pages.
  • Forister, M. L., and S. H. Jenkins. 2017. A neutral model for the evolution of diet breadth. The American Naturalist 190: E40-E54.
  • Auger, J., S. E. Meyer, and S. H. Jenkins. 2016. A mast-seeding desert shrub regulates population dynamics and behavior of its heteromyid dispersers. Ecology and Evolution: doi:10.1002/ece3.2035.
  • Dochtermann, N.A., S.H. Jenkins, M. Swartz and A.C. Hargett. 2012. The roles of competition and environmental heterogeneity in the maintenance of behavioral variation. Ecology 93:1330-1339.
  • Jenkins, S. H. 2011. Sex differences in repeatability of food-hoarding behaviour of kangaroo rats. Animal Behaviour 81:1155-1162.