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In this paper, we develop a partner selection protocol for enhancing the network lifetime in cooperative wireless networks. The case-study is the cooperative relayed transmission from fixed indoor nodes to a common outdoor access point. A stochastic bivariate model for the spatial distribution of the fading parameters that govern the link performance, namely the Rician K-factor and the path-loss, is proposed and validated by means of real channel measurements. The partner selection protocol is based on the real-time estimation of a function of these fading parameters, i.e., the coding gain. To reduce the complexity of the link quality assessment, a Bayesian approach is proposed that uses the site-specific bivariate model as a-priori information for the coding gain estimation. This link quality estimator allows network lifetime gains almost as if all K-factor values were known. Furthermore, it suits IEEE 802.15.4 compliant networks as it efficiently exploits the information acquired from the received signal strength indicator. Extensive numerical results highlight the trade-off between complexity, robustness to model mismatches and network lifetime performance. We show for instance that infrequent updates of the site-specific model through K-factor estimation over a subset of links are sufficient to at least double the network lifetime with respect to existing algorithms based on path loss information only.