Symbioses between microbes and higher organisms underpin high diversity in many ecosystems, including coral reefs, however mechanisms underlying the early establishment of symbioses remain unclear. Here we examine the roles of Symbiodinium type and cell surface recognition in the establishment of algal endosymbiosis in the reef-building coral, Acropora tenuis. We found 20-70% higher infection success (proportion of larvae infected) and five-fold higher Symbiodinium abundance in larvae exposed to ITS-1 type C1 compared to ITS-1 type D in the first 96 h following exposure. The highest abundance of Symbiodinium within larvae occurred when C1-type cells were treated with enzymes that modified the 40-100 kD glycome, including glycoproteins and long chain starch residues. Our finding of declining densities of Symbiodinium C1 through time in the presence of intact cell surface molecules supports a role for cell surface recognition molecules in controlling post-phagocytosis processes, leading to rejection of some Symbiodinium types in early ontogeny. Reductions in the densities of unmodified C1 symbionts after 96 h, in contrast to increases in D symbionts may suggest the early initiation of a winnowing process contributing to the establishment of Symbiodinium D as the dominant type in one-month old juveniles of A. tenuis.