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When a population of an organism is split into fragments, it is less likely to be wiped out by an epidemic disease. But there is a danger that the isolated patches will fail to link up to interbreed, and this can lead to isolated populations becoming genetically uniform. There are exceptions to these rules. Some small habitat fragments can be very rich in species, perhaps as a result of unusual conditions or because of an unusual history. But the rules apply to most fragmented habitats, so the development of patchy landscapes can represent a threat to certain species, especially those that need large areas for living and breeding.

This can be called the topography of the geographical setting. Topography, the shape and form of a landscape, is affected by many factors, such as past climate, tectonic activity (including earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and the like), the length of time over which the region has evolved, and the solid geology that underlies it. Rocks come in many different forms, but most important from a landscape point of view is how hard they are and how porous they are to water. Among the hardest of rocks is granite.

A fragmented forest is particularly rich in gaps and edges, so further fragmentation and further loss of old-growth patches could put the survival of the spotted owl at risk. Unless the remaining old-growth forest is protected, populations of the owl will become scarcer and more scattered, until eventually it is liable to become completely extinct as a species. In some respects, the fragments of habitats that can be found in the agricultural landscape are rather like islands in GEOGRAPHY OF FARMS AND CITIES the ocean.

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