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Ayahuasca, Magic Mushrooms, Richard Schultes and Biodiversity Conservation

When Richard Schultes entered the northwest Amazon in late 1941, he was already a sophisticated and experienced ethnobotanist. After studying the therapeutic uses of peyote among the Kiowas in Oklahoma, he had traveled south to Oaxaca where he carried out groundbreaking research on magic mushrooms among the Mazatec peoples of southern Mexico. His original research objective in Colombia was to document the plants employed as arrow poisons which were then becoming important as muscle relaxants in abdominal surgery.

However, he also hoped to solve the mysteries of ayahuasca which had been first stumbled across by his boyhood idol Richard Spruce almost a century before. Schultes’ vast experiences with his indigenous colleagues in both temperate and tropical America taught him that there is an inextricable link between biological and cultural diversity. Inspired by this vision, the Amazon Conservation Team ( has helped create a new conservation methodology: biocultural conservation. This talk focuses on the development and implementation of this approach.

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Mark Plotkin, Ph.D.