Two field experiments were carried out to investigate the effects of terminal drought on chickpea grown under water-limited conditions in the Mediterranean-climatic region of Western Australia. In the first experiment, five desi (small angular seeds) chickpeas and one kabuli (large round seeds) chickpea were grown in the field with and without irrigation after flowering. In the second experiment, two desi and two kabuli cultivars were grown in the field with either irrigation or under a rainout shelter during pod filling. Leaf water potential (Psi(1)), dry matter partitioning after pod set and yield components were measured in both experiments while growth before pod set, photosynthesis, pod water potential and leaf osmotic adjustment were measured in the first experiment only.In the first experiment, total dry matter accumulation, water use, both in the pre- and post-podding phases, IV, and photosynthesis did not vary among genotypes. In the rainfed plants, Psi(1) decreased below -3 MPa while photosynthesis decreased to about a tenth of its maximum at the start of seed filling. Osmotic adjustment varied significantly among genotypes. Although flowering commenced from about 100 days after sowing (DAS) in both experiments, pod set was delayed until 130-135 DAS in the first experiment, but started at 107 DAS in the second experiment. Water shortage reduced seed yield by 50 to 80%, due to a reduction in seed number and seed size. Apparent redistribution of stem and leaf dry matter during pod filling varied from 0 to 60% among genotypes, and suggests that this characteristic may be important for a high harvest index and seed yield in chickpea. (C) 1999 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.