• stars: formation;
  • stars: kinematics and dynamics;
  • open clusters and associations: general;
  • galaxies: star clusters: general;
  • galaxies: stellar content


The fraction of star formation that results in bound star clusters is influenced by the density spectrum in which stars are formed and by the response of the stellar structure to gas expulsion. We analyse hydrodynamical simulations of turbulent fragmentation in star-forming regions to assess the dynamical properties of the resulting population of stars and (sub)clusters. Stellar subclusters are identified using a minimum spanning tree algorithm. When considering only the gravitational potential of the stars and ignoring the gas, we find that the identified subclusters are close to virial equilibrium (the typical virial ratio Qvir≈ 0.59, where virial equilibrium would be Qvir∼ 0.5). This virial state is a consequence of the low gas fractions within the subclusters, caused by the accretion of gas on to the stars and the accretion-induced shrinkage of the subclusters. Because the subclusters are gas poor, up to a length-scale of 0.1–0.2 pc at the end of the simulation, they are only weakly affected by gas expulsion. The fraction of subclusters that reaches the high density required to evolve to a gas-poor state increases with the density of the star-forming region. We extend this argument to star cluster scales, and suggest that the absence of gas indicates that the early disruption of star clusters due to gas expulsion (infant mortality) plays a smaller role than anticipated, and is potentially restricted to star-forming regions with low ambient gas densities. We propose that in dense star-forming regions, the tidal shocking of young star clusters by the surrounding gas clouds could be responsible for the early disruption. This ‘cruel cradle effect’ would work in addition to disruption by gas expulsion. We suggest possible methods to quantify the relative contributions of both mechanisms.