Field experiments were conducted to characterize intercropping advantages in groundnut-fingermillet intercrop in relation to crop combination ratios, soil moisture and nitrogen (N) availability. Three intercrops in 1 : 2, 1 : 1 and 2 : 1 alternating rows of groundnut and fingermillet were examined for their growth and yield in comparison with their respective sole crops in 1996. The effect of well watered (W) and water stressed (D) conditions on the intercropping advantage was also examined for 1 : 1 intercrops in 1995 and 1996. Fertilizer N was applied at the rate of 20 kg ha-1 in 1995 and 50 kg ha-1 in 1996. The total above-ground biomass (DM) and its land equivalent ratio (LER) were highest in the 1 : 1 combination ratio. The DM production of intercropped fingermillet was higher in 1996 with higher N than in 1995 with low N application, while those of groundnut were similar in both years. The intercropped groundnut exhibited significantly higher DM production after the fingermillet harvest. The LERs in grain yield were higher in 1996 (1.43 under W and 1.45 under D), than in 1995 (0.87 under W and 1.22 under D). Also, LERs were consistently higher under D than W conditions. Water stress severely reduced the leaf area index (LAI) of fingermillet at a low N, especially in the later stages, whereas higher N alleviated the water stress effect. A close linear relationship was observed between LAI and leaf area (LA) per unit leaf N both for groundnut and fingermillet, with intercrops producing larger LA per unit leaf N than sole crops. Intercropping maintained higher ability in leaf net photosynthesis and transpiration of groundnut up to later stages, and significantly reduced water evaporation from the soil surface under the canopy than sole cropping of fingermillet. These results suggest that three processes associated with the intercropping yield advantages in the groundnut-fingermillet intercrop ; 1) higher leaf photo-synthesis and vigorous growth of groundnut after the fingermillet harvest, 2) higher LA production per unit N and 3) efficient water use. In conclusion, interspecific shading was considered to be the key mechanism associated with these processes, leading to the intercropping advantages. The degree of the interspecific shade and its effect on growth and yield depended on the available soil N and water.
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