LA Trobe University PhD student Nick Rutter says his passion for conservation has always been a large part of his life.
"I was always inspired by the natural world around me and the animals, particularly the native animals," he said. "They really engaged my attention and imagination.
"I have also always been involved in volunteering in conservation programs - doing revegetation programs, doing renesting programs for endangered wildlife, and looking at different weed and pest eradication programs."
The 26-year-old grew up in South Morang in Melbourne's north and completed a Bachelor of Psychological Science at La Trobe University's Melbourne campus.
He then went onto an honours degree, where he focused on canine visual perception.
But it was the opportunity to work with Professor Pauleen Bennett that led to his move to Bendigo in 2017.
"I was really inspired to pursue a PhD and to be part of combining what I know about working with dogs with my passion for conservation," he said.
"I combined all those together to do something that I think is quite meaningful for conservation in Australia."
Mr Rutter has spent the past three years developing a group of volunteer conservation dogs as part of his PhD research project.
The dogs, which are based in Greater Bendigo and Melbourne, collect data on endangered native animals.
Mr Rutter said the dogs trace scat, or animal poo, which helps researchers learn more about the health and behaviour of individual animals or species groups.
"A lot of the research shows dogs can be faster, more efficient, and more cost effective in data collection," he said.
"Conservation dogs fill the gap in data collection that is left by a lot of other methods."
Mr Rutter will be completing his PhD this coming year, but said he wanted to ensure his hands-on approach to work would continue.
"Looking at a volunteer model is what I want to keep doing with my career," he said.
"We can help bring a lot of really useful benefits to particularly small conservation volunteer-based groups.
"The driver for me doing all this work is that I'm really interested in conservation and I'm really passionate about our biodiversity."
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