Stephen D. Davis received his bachelor's and master's degrees from Abilene Christian University. He earned his doctorate from Texas A&M, where he also worked as an instructor in botany. He joined the faculty at Pepperdine in 1974.

Much of Davis's research centers on plant physiological ecology or the ability of plants to adapt to fire, freezing and drought. He has written numerous book chapters and scholarly articles for such publications at Nature, the American Journal of Botany, the International Journal of Plant Science and Ecology.

In 2002, Davis was awarded a three-year, $300,000 grant to study chaparral, the most abundant native plant life in Southern California. The award represented the largest NSF grant to ever be awarded to Pepperdine. That same year he was named Pepperdine Professor of the Year.

Davis also served as Harriet and Charles Luckman Distinguished Teaching Fellow from 1990-1995; as a visiting scholar at the University of Utah, UCLA and Stanford University; and is a member of Golden Key national honor society and Phi Sigma biological sciences honor society.