We investigate how the shape of the galaxy two-point correlation function as measured in the zCOSMOS survey depends on local environment, quantified in terms of the density contrast on scales of 5 h-1-Mpc. We show that the flat shape previously observed at redshifts between z= 0.6 and 1 can be explained by this volume being simply 10 per cent overabundant in high-density environments, with respect to a universal density probability distribution function. When galaxies corresponding to the top 10 per cent tail of the distribution are excluded, the measured wp(rp) steepens and becomes indistinguishable from Lambda cold dark matter (ΛCDM) predictions on all scales. This is the same effect recognized by Abbas & Sheth in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) data at z≃ 0 and explained as a natural consequence of halo-environment correlations in a hierarchical scenario. Galaxies living in high-density regions trace dark matter haloes with typically higher masses, which are more correlated. If the density probability distribution function of the sample is particularly rich in high-density regions because of the variance introduced by its finite size, this produces a distorted two-point correlation function. We argue that this is the dominant effect responsible for the observed 'peculiar' clustering in the COSMOS field.
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