The greater impact of mergers on the growth of massive galaxies: Implications for mass assembly and evolution since z ≃ 1

Kevin Bundy, Masataka Fukugita, Richard S. Ellis, Thomas A. Targett, Sirio Belli, Tadayuki Kodama

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

202 Citations (Scopus)


Using deep infrared observations conducted with the MOIRCS imager on the Subaru Telescope in the northern GOODS field combined with public surveys in GOODS-S, we investigate the dependence on stellar mass, M *, and galaxy type of the close pair fraction (5 h -1 kpc < r sep < 20 h -1 kpc) and implied merger rate. In terms of combined depth and survey area, our publicly available mass-limited sample represents a significant improvement over earlier infrared surveys used for this purpose. In common with some recent studies, we find that the fraction of paired systems that could result in major mergers is low (4%) and does not increase significantly with redshift to z 1.2, with (1 + z)1.61.6. Our key finding is that massive galaxies with M *>10 11 M⊙ are more likely to host merging companions than less massive systems (M * 1010 M⊙). We find evidence for a higher pair fraction for red, spheroidal hosts compared to blue, late-type systems, in line with expectations based on clustering at small scales. The so-called "dry" mergers between early-type galaxies devoid of star formation (SF) represent nearly 50% of close pairs with M *>3 × 1010 M⊙ at z 0.5, but less than 30% at z 1. This result can be explained by the increasing abundance of red, early-type galaxies at these masses. We compare the volumetric merger rate of galaxies with different masses to mass-dependent trends in galaxy evolution. Our results reaffirm the conclusion of Bundy etal. that major mergers do not fully account for the formation of spheroidal galaxies since z 1. In terms of mass assembly, major mergers contribute little to galaxy growth below M * 3 × 1010 M⊙ but play a more significant role among galaxies with M * ≳ 1011 M⊙ 30% of which have undergone mostly dry mergers over the observed redshift range. Overall, the relatively rapid and recent coalescence of high-mass galaxies mirrors the expected hierarchical growth of halos and is consistent with recent model predictions, even if the top-down suppression of SF and morphological evolution (i.e., "downsizing") involves additional physical processes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1369-1383
Number of pages15
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Galaxies: evolution
  • Galaxies: formation
  • Galaxies: interactions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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