Mitochondria isolated from chickpea (Cicer arietinum) possess substantial alternative oxidase (AOX) activity, even in non-stressed plants, and one or two AOX protein bands were detected immunologically, depending on the organ. Four different AOX isoforms were identified in the chickpea genome: CaAOX1 and CaAOX2A, B and D. CaAOX2A was the most highly expressed form and was strongly expressed in photosynthetic tissues, whereas CaAOX2D was found in all organs examined. These results are very similar to those of previous studies with soybean and siratro. Searches of available databases showed that this pattern of AOX genes and their expression was common to at least 16 different legume species. The evolution of the legume AOX gene family is discussed, as is the in vivo impact of an inherently high AOX capacity in legumes on growth and responses to environmental stresses.