Abstract Background Structural variants (SVs) significantly drive genome diversity and environmental adaptation for diverse species. Unlike the prevalent small SVs (< kilobase-scale) in higher eukaryotes, large-size SVs rarely exist in the genome, but they function as one of the key evolutionary forces for speciation and adaptation. Results In this study, we discover and characterize several megabase-scale presence-absence variations (PAVs) in the maize genome. Surprisingly, we identify a 3.2 Mb PAV fragment that shows high integrity and is present as complete presence or absence in the natural diversity panel. This PAV is embedded within the nucleolus organizer region (NOR), where the suppressed recombination is found to maintain the PAV against the evolutionary variation. Interestingly, by analyzing the sequence of this PAV, we not only reveal the domestication trace from teosinte to modern maize, but also the footprints of its origin from Tripsacum , shedding light on a previously unknown contribution from Tripsacum to the speciation of Zea species. The functional consequence of the Tripsacum segment migration is also investigated, and environmental fitness conferred by the PAV may explain the whole segment as a selection target during maize domestication and improvement. Conclusions These findings provide a novel perspective that Tripsacum contributes to Zea speciation, and also instantiate a strategy for evolutionary and functional analysis of the “fossil” structure variations during genome evolution and speciation.