Aims. With the first ∼10 000 spectra of the flux limited zCOSMOS sample (IAB ≤ 22.5) we want to study the evolution of environmental effects on galaxy properties since z ∼ 1.0, and to disentangle the dependence among galaxy colour, stellar mass and local density. Methods. We use our previously derived 3D local density contrast δ, computed with the 5th nearest neighbour approach, to study the evolution with z of the environmental effects on galaxy U-B colour, D4000 Å break and [OII].3727 equivalent width (EW[OII]).We also analyze the implications due to the use of different galaxy selections, using luminosity or stellar mass, and we disentangle the relations among colour, stellar mass and d studying the colour-density relation in narrow mass bins. Results. We confirm that within a luminosity-limited sample (MB ≤ -20.5 - z) the fraction of red (U - B ≥ 1) galaxies depends on d at least up to z ∼ 1, with red galaxies residing mainly in high densities. This trend becomes weaker for increasing redshifts, and it is mirrored by the behaviour of the fraction of galaxies with D4000 Å break =1.4. We also find that up to z ∼ 1 the fraction of galaxies with log(EW[OII]) ≥ 1.15 is higher for lower d, and also this dependence weakens for increasing z. Given the triple dependence among galaxy colours, stellar mass and d, the colour-d relation that we find in the luminosity-selected sample can be due to the broad range of stellar masses embedded in the sample. Thus, we study the colour-d relation in narrow mass bins within mass complete subsamples, defining red galaxies with a colour threshold roughly parallel to the red sequence in the colour-mass plane. We find that once mass is fixed the colour-d relation is globally flat up to z ∼ 1 for galaxies with log(M/M⊙) ≳ 10.7. This means that for these masses any colour-d relation found within a luminosity-selected sample is the result of the combined colour-mass and mass-d relations. On the contrary, even at fixed mass we observe that within 0.1 = z = 0.5 the fraction of red galaxies with log(M/M⊙) ≲ 10.7 depends on d. For these mass and redshift ranges, environment affects directly also galaxy colours. Conclusions. We suggest a scenario in which the colour depends primarily on stellar mass, but for an intermediate mass regime (10.2 ≲ log(M/M⊙) ≲ 10.7) the local density modulates this dependence. These relatively low mass galaxies formed more recently, in an epoch when more evolved structures were already in place, and their longer SFH allowed environment-driven physical processes to operate during longer periods of time.
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