No assembly required: Mergers are mostly irrelevant for the growth of low-mass dwarf galaxies

Alex Fitts, Michael Boylan-Kolchin, James S. Bullock, Daniel R. Weisz, Kareem El-Badry, Coral Wheeler, Claude André Faucher-Giguère, Eliot Quataert, Philip F. Hopkins, Dušan Kereš, Andrew Wetzel, Christopher C. Hayward

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


We investigate the merger histories of isolated dwarf galaxies based on a suite of 15 highresolution cosmological zoom-in simulations, all with masses of Mhalo ≈ 1010M (and M* ~ 105 - 107M) at z= 0, from the Feedback in Realistic Environments project. The stellar populations of these dwarf galaxies at z= 0 are formed essentially entirely 'in situ': over 90 per cent of the stellar mass is formed in the main progenitor in all but two cases, and all 15 of the galaxies have > 70 per cent of their stellar mass formed in situ. Virtually all galaxy mergers occur prior to z~ 3, meaning that accreted stellar populations are ancient. On average, our simulated dwarfs undergo five galaxy mergers in their lifetimes, with typical pre-merger galaxy mass ratios that are less than 1:10. This merger frequency is generally comparable to what has been found in dissipationless simulations when coupled with abundance matching. Two of the simulated dwarfs have a luminous satellite companion at z= 0. These ultra-faint dwarfs lie at or below current detectability thresholds but are intriguing targets for nextgeneration facilities. The small contribution of accreted stars makes it extremely difficult to discern the effects of mergers in the vast majority of dwarfs either photometrically or using resolved-star colour-magnitude diagrams (CMDs). The important implication for near-field cosmology is that star formation histories (SFHs) of comparably massive galaxies derived from resolved CMDs should trace the build-up of stellar mass in one main system across cosmic time as opposed to reflecting the contributions of many individual SFHs of merged dwarfs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)319-331
Number of pages13
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 1 2018
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Dark matter
  • Galaxies: dwarf
  • Galaxies: evolution
  • Galaxies: formation
  • Galaxies: star formation
  • Galaxies: structure


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