Intercropping has been shown to increase total yield and nutrient uptake compared to monocropping. However, depending on crop combinations, one crop may dominate and decrease the growth of the other. Interactions in the soil, especially in the rhizosphere, may be important in the interactions between intercropped plant genotypes. To assess the role of the rhizosphere interactions, we intercropped a P-inefficient wheat genotype (Janz) with either the P-efficient wheat genotype (Goldmark) or chickpea in a soil with low P availability amended with 100 mg P kg(-1) as FePO4 (FeP) or phytate. The plants were grown for 10 weeks in pots where the roots of the genotypes could intermingle (no barrier, NB), were separated by a 30 mu m mesh (mesh barrier, MB), preventing direct root contact but allowing exchange of diffusible compounds and microorganisms, or were completely separated by a solid barrier (SB). When supplied with FeP, Janz intercropped with chickpea had higher shoot and grain dry weight (dw) and greater plant P uptake in NB and MB than in SB. Contact with roots of Janz increased shoot, grain and root dw, root length, shoot P concentration and shoot P uptake of chickpea compared to SB. Root contact between the two wheat genotypes, Janz and Goldmark, had no effect on growth and P uptake of Janz. Shoot and total P uptake by Goldmark were significantly increased in NB compared to MB or SB. In both crop combinations, root contact significantly increased total plant dw and P uptake per pot. Plant growth and P uptake were lower with phytate and not significantly affected by barrier treatment. Differences in microbial P, available P and phosphatase activity in the rhizosphere among genotypes and barrier treatments were generally small. Root contact changed microbial community structure (assessed by fatty acid methyl ester (FAME) analysis) and all crops had similar rhizosphere microbial community structure when their roots intermingled. (c) 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.