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Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience



I began as a veterinary student here in Cambridge, graduating in Zoology and moving out of the veterinary field to study for a PhD in that department. After some time in UCLA, California, conducting postdoctoral research in the laboratory of Prof. Peter Narins, I returned to Cambridge in 2001. Since then I have been working in the Department of Physiology, Development & Neuroscience.


My main research focus is the structure, function and evolution of the vertebrate auditory system, which I investigate using techniques such as micro-CT scanning. I then use models of middle ear function to investigate the likely hearing range of the animal in question, in order to answer questions about how hearing is matched to particular acoustical properties of the environment that the animal lives in, and how the ear might have evolved. 

I have long been interested in how small mammals can be adapted towards detecting low-frequency sound. For example, certain elephant shrews have enormously enlarged middle ear cavities, which allow these ears to transmit low-frequency airborne sound, while golden moles have massive ear ossicles, which may allow these burrowing African mammals to detect ground vibrations by means of bone conduction. 

Recently I've become interested in certain other areas of comparative physiology, including fluorescence in frogs and nasal turbinate structure in seals.


Key publications: 

Mason, M.J., Wenger, L.M.D., Hammer, Ø. & Blix, A.S. (2020) Structure and function of respiratory turbinates in phocid sealsPolar Biology 43: 157-173.

Malkemper, E.P., Mason, M.J. & Burda, H. (2020) Functional anatomy of the middle and inner ears of the red fox, in comparison to domestic dogs and catsJournal of Anatomy 236: 980-995.

Basso, A.P., Sidorkewicj, N.S., Casanave, E.B., Mason, M.J. (2020) The middle ear of the pink fairy armadillo Chlamyphorus truncatus (Xenarthra, Cingulata, Chlamyphoridae): comparison with armadillo relatives using computed tomographyJournal of Anatomy 236: 809-826.

Goutte, S., Mason, M.J. et al. (2019) Intense bone fluorescence reveals hidden patterns in pumpkin toadlets. Scientific Reports 9 (5388): 1-8.

Goutte, S., Mason, M.J. et al. (2017) Evidence of auditory insensitivity to vocalization frequencies in two frogs. Scientific Reports 7 (12121): 1-9.

Mason MJ, (2016), Structure and function of the mammalian middle ear. I: Large middle ears in small desert mammals. Journal of Anatomy 228: 284-299

Mason MJ, (2016), Structure and function of the mammalian middle ear. II: Inferring function from structure. Journal of Anatomy 228: 300-312

Teaching and Supervisions


Natural Sciences Tripos (1A Physiology of Organisms, 1B Physiology, part II PDN research projects), Medical & Veterinary Sciences Triposes (1A Homeostasis and supervising in Comparative Vertebrate Biology).

I am usually Senior Examiner and/or Course Organiser for one or more of these courses.

Check out my YouTube teaching channel:

University Physiologist
Fellow of St Catharine's College
Dr Matthew James Mason

Contact Details

+44 (0) 1223 333829, Fax: +44 (0) 1223 333840
Email address: