Carbohydrates fixed by photosynthesis are stored in plant organs in the form of starch or sugars. Starch and sugars sum to the total non-structural carbohydrate pool (TNC) and may serve as intermediate pools between assimilation and utilization. We examined the impact of tapping on TNC concentrations in stem-wood, bark and root tissues of the frankincense tree (Boswellia papyrifera (Del.) Hochst) in two natural woodlands of Ethiopia. Two tapping treatments, one without tapping (control) and the other with tapping at 12 incisions, are applied on experimental trees. Trees are tapped in the leafless dry period, diminishing their carbon storage pools. If storage pools are not refilled by assimilation during the wet season, when crowns are in full leaf, tapping may deplete the carbon pool and weaken Boswellia trees. The highest soluble sugar concentrations were in the bark and the highest starch concentrations in the stem-wood. The stem-wood contains 12 times higher starch than soluble sugar concentrations. Hence, the highest TNC concentrations occurred in the stem-wood. Moreover, wood volume was larger than root or bark volumes and, as a result, more TNC was stored in the stem-wood. As predicted, tapping reduced the TNC concentrations and pool sizes in frankincense trees during the dry season. During the wet season, these carbon pools were gradually filled in tapped trees, but never to the size of non-tapped trees. We conclude that TNC is dynamic on a seasonal time scale and offers resilience against stress, highlighting its importance for tree carbon balance. But current resin tapping practices are intensive and may weaken Boswellia populations, jeopardizing future frankincense production.
Keywords: Boswellia; Ethiopia; carbon storage; frankincense; non-structural carbon.