Dams are crucial for water supply in human populations and are becoming more common globally for hydroelectric power generation. Dams alter natural habitats and their biodiversity; however, studies are inconclusive about their effects on them. This study aimed to examine the effects of dams on vertebrates and the determinants of changes in global biodiversity and their relationship with critical areas for conservation. We evaluated the effects of dams on vertebrate richness and abundance. We performed a meta-analysis based on 120 case studies. We evaluated the overall effect on richness and abundance and examined these effects regarding taxa, disturbance type, latitudinal zone, zoogeographic zone, biodiversity hotspots, dam size and purpose, and species extinction risk. We conducted an overall analysis that included all species, and then we conducted separate analyses for terrestrial and aquatic species. Dams had a negative effect on vertebrate richness but not on vertebrate abundance. These effects were influenced by larger dams with fragmentation and were more pronounced within hotspots and in countries with a low species extinction risk. Such negative effects were explained by terrestrial vertebrates (particularly birds and mammals) because species richness and the abundance of aquatic vertebrates (fish) were not affected by dams in any case. Our results showed that habitat fragmentation created by large dams changes vertebrate communities, negatively affecting species richness in some areas of conservation concern. We propose implementing reservoirs in areas where they would have a lower impact on biodiversity and avoiding large dams in priority areas for conservation and where endangered species inhabit.