Few ecosystem restoration studies evaluate whether arthropods are important components of ecosystem recovery. We tested the hypothesis that ponderosa pine restoration treatments would increase adult butterfly species richness and abundance as a direct result of increased understory diversity and abundance. To examine mechanisms that potentially affect adult butterfly distribution, we quantified host plant frequency, nectar plant abundance, and insolation (light intensity) in restoration treatment and control forests. This study is unique, because this is the first invertebrate monitoring in ponderosa pine forest restoration treatments in the U.S. Southwest and also because these treatments are the first replicated ponderosa pine restoration treatments at a landscape scale. Three patterns emerged: (1) butterfly species richness and abundance were 2 and 3 times greater, respectively, in restoration treatment units than in paired control forests 1 year after treatment, and 1.5 and 3.5 times greater, respectively, 2 years after treatment, ordination of control and treatment sampling units using butterfly assemblages showed significant separation of control and restoration treatment units after restoration treatment; (2) host plant and nectar plant species richness showed little difference between treated and control forests even 2 years after treatment; and (3) insolation (light intensity) was significantly greater in treated forests after restoration. We suggest that changes in the butterfly assemblage may occur due to light intensity effects before plant community changes occur or can be detected. Butterfly assemblage differences will have additional cascading effects on the ecosystem as prey for higher trophic levels and through plant interactions including herbivory and pollination.