Non-structural carbohydrates (NSC) provide a measure of the carbon supply available to support respiration, growth, and defense. Support for a role of carbon starvation -- or depletion of NSC stores -- in drought induced tree mortality is varied without consensus for the tropics. The 2016 ENSO drought provided a unique opportunity to capture drought impacts on tropical forest carbohydrate dynamics. To quantify these impacts, we collected monthly NSC samples across a rainfall gradient in Panama for the duration of the ENSO.
We observed high variability in foliar NSC among species within sites. Foliage contained very little starch, indicating that total NSC dynamics are driven by soluble sugars. Foliar NSC depletion did not progress with drought duration as predicted, but showed little variation over course of the ENSO. Foliar NSC did, however, increase with rainfall, suggesting NSC depletion may occur with longer-term drought. These results suggest that, while short-term droughts like the 2016 ENSO may not have a significant impact on carbon dynamics, we may observe greater impacts as drought progresses over longer timescales. These results will be used to evaluate whether the current implementation of carbon starvation in climate models are capturing observed trends in tropical forest carbon allocation and mortality, and to tune model parameters for improved predictive capability.