Seasonal dynamics and age of stemwood nonstructural carbohydrates in temperate forest trees


Author for correspondence:

Andrew D. Richardson

Tel: +1 617 496 1277



  • Nonstructural carbohydrate reserves support tree metabolism and growth when current photosynthates are insufficient, offering resilience in times of stress.
  • We monitored stemwood nonstructural carbohydrate (starch and sugars) concentrations of the dominant tree species at three sites in the northeastern United States. We estimated the mean age of the starch and sugars in a subset of trees using the radiocarbon (14C) bomb spike. With these data, we then tested different carbon (C) allocation schemes in a process-based model of forest C cycling.
  • We found that the nonstructural carbohydrates are both highly dynamic and about a decade old. Seasonal dynamics in starch (two to four times higher in the growing season, lower in the dormant season) mirrored those of sugars. Radiocarbon-based estimates indicated that the mean age of the starch and sugars in red maple (Acer rubrum) was 7–14 yr.
  • A two-pool (fast and slow cycling reserves) model structure gave reasonable estimates of the size and mean residence time of the total NSC pool, and greatly improved model predictions of interannual variability in woody biomass increment, compared with zero- or one-pool structures used in the majority of existing models. This highlights the importance of nonstructural carbohydrates in the context of forest ecosystem carbon cycling.