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Energy consumption has been a key concern of data gathering in wireless sensor networks. Previous research works show that modulation scaling is an efficient technique to reduce energy consumption. However, such a technique also impacts on both packet delivery latency and packet loss, therefore, may result in adverse effects on the quality of applications. In this paper, we study the problem of modulation scaling and energy optimization. A mathematical model is proposed to analyze the impact of modulation scaling on the overall energy consumption, end-to-end mean delivery latency and mean packet loss rate. A centralized optimal management mechanism is developed, based on the model, which adaptively adjusts the modulation levels to minimize energy consumption while ensuring the QoS for data gathering. Experimental results show that the management mechanism saves significant energy in all the investigated scenarios. Some valuable results are also observed in the experiments.