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

  • Editorial Board of the journal Frontiers in Bee Science, 2022-
  • Editorial Board of the journal Insectes Sociaux, 2022-
  • Editorial Board of the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 2022-
  • Editorial Board of the journal Insects, 2021-
  • Editorial Advisory Panel of the Encyclopedia of Social Insects, 2017-
  • Fellow of the Linnean Society of London, 2014
  • Smithsonian Institution, Postdoctoral Fellow 2010-11
  • Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Tupper Fellow 2005-08

Grants / Current Projects

Evolutionary history and phylogenomics of South West Pacific nocturnal bees
Partner/Funding Body: Australia and Pacific Science Foundation
Period: 2023-2026

Loss of horticultural pollination services from wild insects following bushfires
Co-Researchers: James Cook, Amy-Marie Gilpin and Sally Power
Partner/Funding Body: Horticulture Innovation Australia
Period: 2021-2023

Development of Blue-banded bees as managed buzz pollinators
Co-Researchers: James Cook, Ben Moore, Markus Riegler, Robert Spooner-Hart and Michelle Mak
Partner/funding body: Horticulture Innovation Australia
Period: 2021-2026

Elucidating the effects of disturbance on island pollination networks
Co-Researchers: Adam Cronin, Isaac Planas-Sitja, Marta Quitian and Anna Traveset
Partner/Funding Body: National Geographic Society
Period: 2019-2020

Teaching Exchange Program Grant
Co-Researcher: Adam Cronin
Partner/Funding Body: Tokyo Metropolitan University
Period: 2019-2020

Genomic empowerment of Australian bee systematics, taxonomy, conservation and diversity
Co-Researchers: Saul Cunningham and Juanita Rodriguez
Partner/Funding Body: Centre for Biodiversity Analysis
Period: 2019

Selected Publications

I have published 50 peer reviewed articles in encyclopedia, books and scientific journals – ORCiD: (opens in a new window)

Schwarz MP & Tierney SM. 2020. Allodapine bees. In: Encyclopedia of Social Insects (Starr CK ed), pp 22-27. Springer: Cham.

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.


Chapman NC, Colin T, Cook J, da Silva CRB, Gloag R, Hogendoorn K, Howard SR, Remnant EJ, Roberts JMK, Tierney SM, Wilson RS, Mikheyev AS, (2023) 'The final frontier: ecological and evolutionary dynamics of a global parasite invasion', Biology Letters, vol19, no.5, Article no.20220589

Tierney SM, Bernauer OM, King L, Spooner-Hart R, Cook JM, (2023) 'Bee pollination services and the burden of biogeography', Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, vol.290, no.2000, p. 20230747

Beasley-Hall PG, Bertozzi T, Bradford TM, Foster CSP, Jones K, Tierney S, Humphreys WF, Austin AD, Cooper SJB, (2022) 'Differential transcriptomic responses to heat stress in surface and subterranean diving beetles', Scientific Reports, vol.12, no.1, Article no.16194

Bernauer OM, Cook JM, Tierney SM, (2022) 'Division of foraging behaviour: Assessments of pollinator traits when visiting a model plant species', Animal Behaviour, vol.188, pp 169-179

Bernauer OM, Tierney SM, Cook JM, (2022) 'Efficiency and effectiveness of native bees and honey bees as pollinators of apples in New South Wales orchards', Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, vol.3371, Article no.108063

Bousjein NS, Tierney SM, Gardner MG, Schwarz MP, (2022) 'Does effective population size affect rates of molecular evolution: Mitochondrial data for host/parasite species pairs in bees suggests not', Ecology and Evolution, vol.12, no.2, e8562

Langille BL, Tierney SM, Bertozzi T, Beasley-Hall PG, Bradford TM, Fagan-Jeffries EP, Hyde J, Leijs R, Richardson M, Saint KM, Stringer DN, Villastrigo A, Humphreys WF, Austin AD, Cooper SJB, (2022) 'Parallel decay of vision genes in subterranean water beetles', Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, vol.173, Article no.107522

Shokri Bousjein N, Tierney SM, Gardner MG, Schwarz MP, (2022) 'Does effective population size affect rates of molecular evolution: Mitochondrial data for host/parasite species pairs in bees suggests not', Ecology and Evolution, vol.12, no.2, Article no.e8562

Freelance CB, Tierney SM, Rodriguez J, Stuart-Fox DM, Wong BBM, Elgar MA, (2021) 'The eyes have it: Dim-light activity is associated with the morphology of eyes but not antennae across insect orders', Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, vol.134, no.2, pp 303-315

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

Stringer DN, Bertozzi T, Meusemann K, Delean S, Guzik MT, Tierney SM, Mayer C, Cooper SJB, Javidkar M, Zwick A, Austin AD, (2021) 'Development and evaluation of a custom bait design based on 469 single-copy protein-coding genes for exon capture of isopods (Philosciidae: Haloniscus)', PLOS One, vol.16, no.9, Article no.e0256861

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, 24 May 2023
Australia is in a unique position to eliminate the bee-killing Varroa mite. Here’s what happens if we don’t (opens in a new window)

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)