A sediment core from Chuna Lake (Kola Peninsula, northwest Russia) was studied for pollen, diatoms and sediment chemistry in order to infer post-glacial environmental changes and to investigate responses of the lake ecosystem to these changes. The past pH and dissolved organic carbon (DOC) of the lake were inferred using diatom-based transfer functions. Between 9000 and 4200 cal. yr BP, slow natural acidification and major changes in the diatom flora occurred in Chuna Lake. These correlated with changes in regional pollen, the arrival of trees in the catchment, changes in erosion, sediment organic content and DOC. During the past 4200 yr diatom-based proxies showed no clear response to changes in vegetation and erosion, as autochthonous ecological processes became more important than external climate influences during the late Holocene. The pollen stratigraphy reflects the major climate patterns of the central Kola Peninsula during the Holocene, i.e. a climate optimum between 9000 and 5400/5000 cal. yr BP when climate was warm and dry, and gradual climate cooling and an increase in moisture during the past 5400/5000 yr. This agrees with the occurrence of the north–south humidity gradient in Fennoscandia during the Holocene. Copyright © 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.