Central American arc volcanism shows strong regional trends in lava chemistry that result from differing slab contributions to arc melting. However, the mechanism that transfers slab-derived trace elements into the mantle wedge remains largely unknown. By using a dynamic model for mantle flow and fluid release, we model the fate of three different slab-fluid sources: sediment, ocean crust, and serpentinized mantle. In the open subarc system, sediments lose almost all their highly fluid mobile elements by ∼50 km depth, so other fluid sources are necessary to explain the slab signal in arc-lava compositions. The well-documented transition from lavas with a strong geochemical slab signature (i.e., high Ba/La ratios) found in Nicaragua to lavas with a weaker slab signature (i.e., low Ba/La ratios) erupted in Costa Rica seems easiest to produce by a higher fraction of serpentine-hosted fluids released from the deeply faulted, highly serpentinized lithosphere subducting beneath Nicaragua than from the less deeply faulted, thicker, amphibolitic oceanic-crust and oceanic-plateau lithosphere subducting beneath Costa Rica.