Doctor Simon Tierney

Simon is an Evolutionary Ecologist interested in animal behaviour and ecological interactions.  Using field and genetic tool-kits he aims to understand the interplay between whole organisms, their environment and their genes, with a particular focus on social insect organisation, photic niche shifts and pollination.  He has undertaken extensive fieldwork throughout Australia, the Americas, Africa and Asia - experiences that afford key insights into the evolution and function of the natural world.

His PhD investigated allodapine bees that can switch between solitary and social lifestyles (Flinders University, Adelaide), and he then undertook a series of postdocs exploring neotropical halictine bees that are similarly social, but unusual in their habit of nocturnal foraging (Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Panama).  This latter program developed a parallel interest in vision and led to projects exploring the molecular evolution of vision genes in nocturnal bees, blind water beetles (regressive evolution) and the development high-throughput sequencing technology and bioinformatics (University of Adelaide); skills that were subsequently applied to bee projects on differential gene expression between queen vs worker castes and social parasites vs their hosts.

Simon joined the HIE in 2017 and is currently involved in a multi-disciplinary project aimed at understanding and safeguarding the pollination services provided by Australian bees.

Research and Teaching Interests

Evolution, Behaviour, Ecology, Genetics, Systematics, Biogeography, Vision, Pollination

Awards and Recognition

  • Fellow of the Linnean Society of London

Selected Publications

Book Chapters

Wcislo WT & Tierney SM.  2009.  Evolution of communal behavior in bees and wasps: an alternative to eusociality. In: Organization of Insect Societies: from genomes to socio-complexity (eds Gadau J, Fewell J), pp 148-169. Harvard University Press: Cambridge MA.


Langille BL, Hyde J, Saint KM, Bradford TM, Stringer DN, Tierney SM, Humphreys WF, Austin AD, Cooper SJB, (2021) 'Evidence for speciation underground in diving beetles (Dytiscidae) from a subterranean archipelago', Evolution, vol.75, no.1, pp 166-175

Freelance CB, Majoe M, Tierney SM, Elgar MA, (2019) 'Antennal asymmetry is not associated with social behaviour in Australian Hymenoptera', Austral Entomology, vol.58, no.3, pp 589-594

Langille BL, Tierney SM, Austin AD, Humphreys WF, Cooper SJB, (2019) 'How blind are they? Phototactic responses in stygobiont diving beetles (Coleoptera: Dytiscidae) from calcrete aquifers of Western Australia', Austral Entomology, vol.58, no.2, pp 425-431

Beasley-Hall PG, Tierney SM, Weinstein P, Austin AD, (2018) 'A revised phylogeny of macropathine cave crickets (Orthoptera: Rhaphidophoridae) uncovers a paraphyletic Australian fauna', Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, vol.126, pp 153-161

Dew RM, Tierney SM, Schwarz MP, (2018) 'Lack of ovarian skew in an allodapine bee and the evolution of casteless social behaviour', Ethology Ecology & Evolution, vol.30, no.1, pp 51-69

Tierney SM, Langille B, Humphreys WF, Austin AD, Cooper SJB, (2018) 'Massive Parallel Regression: A Precis of Genetic Mechanisms for Vision Loss in Diving Beetles', Integrative and Comparative Biology, vol.58, no.3, pp 465-479

Tierney SM, Friedrich M, Humphreys WH, Jones T, Warrant EJ, Wcislo WT, (2017) 'Consequences of evolutionary transitions in changing photic environments', Austral Entomology, vol.56, pp 23-46

Dew RM, Tierney SM, Schwarz MP, (2016) 'Social evolution and casteless societies: needs for new terminology and a new evolutionary focus', Insectes Sociaux, vol.63, pp 5-14

Tierney SM, Cooper SJB, Saint KM, Bertozzi T, Hyde J, Humphreys WF, Austin AD, (2015) 'Opsin transcripts of predatory diving beetles: a comparison of surface and subterranean photic niches', Royal Society Open Science 2: 140386

Tierney SM, Sanjur O, Grajales GG, Santos LM, Bermingham E & Wcislo WT, (2012) 'Photic niche invasions: phylogenetic history of the dim-light foraging augochlorine bees (Halictidae)', Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B, vol.279, pp 794-803

Schwarz MP, Tierney SM, Rehan SM, Chenoweth L, Cooper SJB, (2011) 'The evolution of eusociality in allodapine bees: workers began by waiting', Biology Letters, vol.7, pp 277-280

Wcislo WT, Tierney SM, (2009) 'Behavioural environments and niche construction: the evolution of dim-light foraging in bees', Biological Reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, vol.84, pp 19-37

Tierney SM, Smith JA, Chenoweth L, Schwarz MP, (2008) 'Phylogenetics of allodapine bees: a review of social evolution, parasitism and biogeography', Apidologie, vol.39, pp 3-15

Schwarz MP, Fuller S, Tierney SM, Cooper SJB, (2006) 'Molecular phylogenetics of the exoneurine allodapine bees reveal an ancient and puzzling dispersal from Africa to Australia', Systematic Biology, vol.55, pp 31-45

Fuller S, Schwarz MP, Tierney SM, (2005) 'Phylogenetics of the allodapine bee genus Braunsapis: historical biogeography and long-range dispersal over water', Journal of Biogeography, vol.32, pp 2135-2144

Tierney SM, Schwarz MP, Neville T, Schwarz PM, (2002) 'Sociality in the phylogenetically basal allodapine bee genus Macrogalea (Apidae, Xylocopinae): implications for social evolution in the tribe Allodapini', Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, vol.76, pp  211-224

Press Articles

The Conversation, Science + Technology, Simon Tierney, 5 February 2015
What blind beetles can teach us about evolution (opens in a new window)

Selected Community Engagement

Radio Interviews

ABC Radio National, Michael Mackenzie, 28 January 2015
RN Afternoons live interview – Blind beetles (opens in a new window)

News Coverage

ABC Science Online - Ask an Expert, Anna Salleh, 18 March 2015
How does evolution explain animals losing vision? Simon Tierney & Douglas Futuyma. (opens in a new window)

Science Magazine, ScienceNow – news from Science, Sara Reardon, 26 July 2011
ScienceShot: A buzz in the dark (opens in a new window)