Since 2017, Crystal Cove Conservancy staff and volunteers have been monitoring butterfly populations in Crystal Cove State Park. Because butterflies have a short life cycle that is closely tied to specific plant species, their population can be one of the first indicators of a change in the health of our ecosystem. They can help us track long term trends over time, or assess the health of a particular habitat.

Now, we need your help to analyze the data! We have monthly butterfly survey data from a site in Crystal Cove that has been under restoration since 2018. We want to know if our butterfly population has improved over time in that area as the State Park has been working to bring back the native plant community.

For teachers:  If you are a teacher and would like to run this project with your science or math class, feel free to use this Lesson Guide and student notebook pages as a guide!

We would like to know who is taking part in the program! Please fill out this participation form if you have used any of the challenges.

Background on Butterfly Monitoring

Crystal Cove State Park is home to around 30 different species of butterflies, and while they may seem like a small part of our ecosystem, they play a key role in helping understand the health of a habitat. In order to support a diverse population of butterflies, an area also must have a diverse number of plant species to support them. Because they often live their whole life cycle in one season, they are also one of the first clues we have to changes in our ecosystem.

In 2017, Crystal Cove Conservancy began monthly butterfly surveys to help us monitor the health of both our butterfly population, and the ecosystem as a whole. Each month, staff and volunteers hike along regular routes, recording the total number of butterflies, and the number of different species along the way. One of our butterfly surveys passes by a site called “The Bowl” that is currently being restored to a native habitat by Crystal Cove State Park. The plant community at “The Bowl” was degraded long ago by cattle and sheep grazing, and land managers are now trying to bring back the native plant community to the area.

We want to know if the restoration process is affecting the butterfly population. If we monitor the number and diversity of butterflies at The Bowl before, during, and after the restoration process, it can help us figure out if the habitat restoration is working.

How You Can Help!

That’s where you come in! We need your help analyzing our data set and creating visualizations and graphs that show whether or not the number of butterflies and the diversity of butterfly species is increasing over time at The Bowl restoration site.

To help us, you will need to:

  1. Learn more about butterfly monitoring by watching and reading through the background materials below.
  2. Make a model of the ecosystem and make a prediction about whether you think you will find any trends in the butterfly data.
  3. Virtually collect data with on a virtual butterfly count with Kaitlin.
  4. Use SageModeler to graph the data and look for trends
  5. Share your findings back with us!
  6. Reflect on your experience.

Thank you in advance for your help! We’re really excited to see what you find. If you have any other questions, please feel free to contact us by emailing

Step 1: Learn more about Butterflies

Start by watching and listening to the Butterfly Monitoring slideshow with Kaitlin on Voicethread

If you want to learn more…


  1. Butterflies of Orange County
  2. Why Butterflies Matter
  3. What’s Happening to the Monarch Butterfly Population?
  4. Orange County Butterfly Network

Step 2:  Develop a hypothesis.

Once you’ve looked through the background materials, think about our two monitoring questions.

Monitoring Question (1): Does butterfly diversity change over time at The Bowl restoration site?

Monitoring Question (2): Does the butterfly abundance change over time at

The Bowl restoration site?

To answer these questions, start by making a computer model of the different factors affecting our butterfly populations using SageModeler. Start with this tutorial with Kaitlin on Voicethread! Use the SageModeler link here to get your model started.

Once you’ve made your model, you can use it to make a prediction and share your hypothesis with us by completing this Google Form.

Step 3:  Virtually collect data.

Now that you have developed your hypotheses, take a virtual trip to The Bowl with Kaitlin to collect some data on butterflies. Use this butterfly field guide to identify the species in the video. After recording data, enter what you found here!

Step 4: Analyze the data.

The data uploaded into SageModer can be found here!

For some suggestions on how to get started with analyzing the data in SageModeler, please check out our Data Analysis Crash Course video on Youtube!

Do you have questions about the data that you want answered by Crystal Cove Conservancy staff members or scientists? Submit any questions you or your classmates have to this Padlet

Step 5:  Share your findings!

We want to know what you found! Did you notice any trends in the butterfly data once you graphed it?

Please share your findings through Google Forms! As part of your conclusions, it would be really helpful to get a copy of any data visualizations that you created so that we can share them with Crystal Cove State Park’s environmental scientists.

Would you like to communicate with other students who analyzed the data to talk more about it?  Contribute your thoughts, comments, or questions about the data to this Padlet and see what other people are thinking about the data, too.

Step 6:  Reflect on butterfly monitoring.

It’s important for scientists to take some time to reflect on how their thinking has changed. Watch the video of Kaitlin to help you start reflecting on your experiences with butterfly monitoring and answer the following reflection questions.

  1. What did you do during this environmental challenge?
  2. What did you learn?  How did your thinking change?
  3. Do you think it is important to protect the native habitats at Crystal Cove State Park? Why or why not?
  4. Did you enjoy analyzing data and sharing your findings to help protect the butterflies and native habitat?  What did or didn’t you like about the experience?
  5. Would you like to learn more about butterflies, the coastal sage scrub ecosystem, or how scientists monitor populations there?  If so, what topics interest you?  Do you have ideas of how you could learn more about them?

Are you interested in getting involved in other community science activities? Explore how to contribute to projects at these websites.

Did you enjoy doing the work of a lepidopterist (butterfly scientist)?  Would you like to learn more about environmental science careers?  Explore career options by exploring these websites.

Thank you for your help!  If you have any other questions, please feel free to contact us by emailing

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