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This paper presents a novel duty cycle control (DCC) protocol for wireless sensor network (WSN) deployments. The DCC protocol provides efficient management of node duty cycling within a WSN. Its topological scoping capabilities allow on demand creation of high-availability local neighbourhood zones or communication paths, while the rest of the network saves energy by running at a low duty cycle. This provides a fully decentralized and dynamic control of message latency and energy management for different areas within a network. DCC reduces the energy requirements for a specified network latency and can provide significantly improved node availability with reduced communications latency for a specified energy budget. DCC is decoupled from the underlying synchronization, duty cycling, and medium access control (MAC) approaches. It is of particular relevance to scenarios experiencing long dormant periods interspersed with sporadic bursts of activity, and those using collaborative processing and reporting. Experimental results show that energy efficiency and deployment longevity can be significantly improved without affecting the message latency. The DCC protocol was implemented using TinyOS-2.x, and verified in a MICAz mote testbed.