Identifying the progenitors of present-day early-type galaxies in observational surveys: correcting `progenitor bias' using the Horizon-AGN simulation

G. Martin, S. Kaviraj, J.E.G. Devriendt, Y. Dubois, C. Pichon, C. Laigle

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As endpoints of the hierarchical mass-assembly process, the stellar populations of local earlytype galaxies encode the assembly history of galaxies over cosmic time. We useHorizon-AGN, a cosmological hydrodynamical simulation, to study the merger histories of local early-type galaxies and track how the morphological mix of their progenitors evolves over time. We provide a framework for alleviating 'progenitor bias' - the bias that occurs if one uses only early-type galaxies to study the progenitor population. Early types attain their final morphology at relatively early epochs - by z ~ 1, around 60 per cent of today's early types have had their last significant merger. At all redshifts, the majority of mergers have one late-type progenitor, with late-late mergers dominating at z > 1.5 and early-early mergers becoming significant only at z < 0.5. Progenitor bias is severe at all but the lowest redshifts - e.g. at z~0.6, less than 50 per cent of the stellar mass in today's early types is actually in progenitors with early-type morphology, while, at z~ 2, studying only early types misses almost all (80 per cent) of the stellar mass that eventually ends up in local early-type systems. At high redshift, almost all massive late-type galaxies, regardless of their local environment or star formation rate, are progenitors of local early-type galaxies, as are lowermass (M* < 10 10.5 M ) late-types as long as they reside in high-density environments. In this new era of large observational surveys (e.g. LSST, JWST), this study provides a framework for studying how today's early-type galaxies have been built up over cosmic time.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3140–3151
Number of pages12
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number3
Early online date12 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2018


  • Galaxies: evolution
  • Galaxies: formation
  • Galaxies: highredshift
  • Galaxies: statistics
  • Methods: numerical


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