Understanding the Response of Wheat-Chickpea Intercropping to Nitrogen Fertilization Using Agro-Ecological Competitive Indices under Contrasting Pedoclimatic Conditions
Wheat-chickpea intercrops are not well studied, despite the importance of these two species in increasing agricultural profitability and ensuring nutritional and food security. The present study aims to assess the intercropping arable system's services under contrasting field management and climate conditions. Simultaneously, this assessment focuses on the most agronomic and ecological indices widely used in the literature. Durum wheat (Triticum turgidum durum L.cv. VITRON) and chickpea (Cicer arietinum L.cv. FLIP 90/13 C) were cultivated, both in sole crop and intercrop during the 2018/2019 growing season. A field experiment was carried out under controlled conditions at three contrasting pedoclimatic sites and under three levels of N fertilization. Both grain and N yield of mixture crop were significantly higher (+11%) when chickpea and durum wheat were grown together under either low or moderate N application. Soil N availability as compared to the critical level increased by more than 19% from flowering to harvest stage for intercropped wheat under low N application (N-30 and N-60), while it decreased significantly for intercropped chickpea. In rich N soils and under low rainfall conditions (site 1 and 3), intercropping was generally more advantageous for yield (+14%), N yield (+23%), and land use (103 and 119.5% for grain and N yield, respectively) only with reduced N fertilization as assessed using both land equivalent ratio (LER) and land-use efficiency (LUE). Competition dominance was directly affected by changes in climatic conditions over sites; intercropped wheat was more competitive than their respective chickpea under low rainfall conditions. These findings illustrate the crucial role of competitive index assessment in intercropping to promise a robust method for crop N and yield diagnosis during fertilization decision-making.